With local swimming pools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, former Liquid Lightning swimmer Kierra Smith is keeping her goal of returning to the Olympics in 2021 alive training in a private West Kelowna 10-metre outdoor pool in April wearing what resembles a large elastic band.
“Is that not usual?” quipped Smith.
Smith, 26, swam for the West Kelowna swim club before committing to swim for the University of Minnesota and representing Canada in swimming at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Ahead of Canadian Olympic trials set for the end of March in Toronto, Smith moved from Toronto to Minnesota in January to train.
The trials would determine who would represent Canada in swimming at the Tokyo 2020 games.
Smith said she was totally prepped for Olympic trials; however, with the dire COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, Smith’s coach in Minnesota advised her to go home to Kelowna.
“I want you to be with family if you are going to be up in Canada,” Smith recalled him saying.
She was on a layover in Calgary on her way to Kelowna March 13 when Swimming Canada announced the postponement of Olympic trials.
At that point the Olympics were still on.
“You never think those are going to be affected,” she said.
Smith recalled she still tried to prepare the best she could, but local pools started shutting down quickly, first H2O in Kelowna and then two days later West Kelowna’s Johnson-Bentley pool.
She trained for a week in a Kelowna hotel pool before it was shut down and was running out of options.
Smith knew that former Liquid Lightning now Kelowna AquaJets coach Emil Dimitrov had an outdoor pool at his West Kelowna home.
She asked him to fill it and heat it.
Smith said she knew it was a big ask in April.
“It’s still freezing,” she said, noting Dimitrov keeps the pool at 84 F.
Dimitrov did it and Smith said they train for 90 minutes every morning, never missing a day.
Smith considers herself lucky to have Dimitrov coaching her as he excels at being creative in adverse situations.
“He didn’t miss a beat looking at a 10-metre pool,” she said. “We’ve done a different set every single day.”
Some of the sets include Smith swimming while wearing a stretch cord, which provides resistance.
Smith is enjoying being coached by Dimitrov again.
She had been stressed about Olympic trials as she said she wasn’t exactly where she wanted to be swimming-wise.
“A lot of things felt off,” she said.
With this pause and no pressure of any upcoming swim meets, Smith said it’s given them the opportunity to take a thousand steps back and get back to basics on her technique, breaking down her stroke and focusing on each part.
As well, Okanagan Peak Performance offered to let Smith use their equipment while their gym was closed, so she has a little home gym set up in her family’s garage.
With the Tokyo Olympics postponed until 2021, Smith said she doesn’t have a problem staying motivated to work out.
“I love staying active and I love being in shape,” she said.
She has learned to be more diligent about sticking to a healthy diet even with no competitions on the horizon.
While her training plan during the pandemic might seem unusual, Smith said it’s tricky for swimmers to train without a pool unless they want to get into the lake.
They can stay in shape, but it will take a few weeks to get the feel of the water back.
“Whoever can adapt the best to this is going to come out the strongest,” said Smith. “This is really a good time for me to maybe make some progress where I wouldn’t have been able to if I was stressed out.”