While the majority of pools in the United States and Canada have reopened in some capacity, implementing new restrictions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there remain several areas who have yet to get their facilities up and running.
The Laurentian University Olympic Gold Pool, located in Sudbury, Ontario, is among those that remained closed, and the local athletes are pushing the school’s president and Board to give them somewhere to train after five months with no access.
Located on the Laurentian University campus, the pool is home to both the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club (SLSC) and the LU Voyageurs varsity team, and also frequently hosts training camps for athletes from the surrounding area.
“The Laurentian University Olympic Gold Pool is just that, the best 50-meter pool north of Toronto, the golden gem of the north,” Phil Parker, head coach of the Laurentian Voyageurs swim team and Peter Hellstrom, the LU Athletic Director, said in a joint statement. “This facility has been and continues to be the home to Olympians and future Olympians. The thought of our pool not being utilized as a training/competing facility to water sports athletes from all over Ontario is quite disturbing.”
“Our Olympic Gold Pool is not just an asset for the 40+ varsity athletes and Laurentian University/Greater Sudbury community – but an asset for the entire region north of Toronto.”
The pool is the only facility of its kind in the northeastern region of the province, and was the longtime training base of two-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Alex Baumann.
“There are yearly provincial training camps along with competitive swim and synchro competitions which all generate huge recruiting opportunities for LU and our varsity swim program,” Parker and Hellstrom said.
“We are the only 50-meter, eight-lane facility north of Toronto and our asset is responsible for water sport athlete development farther outside our community then most people are aware of. We are hoping (the school) see this facility for what it really encompasses and not just a cost centre.”
SLSC has churned out several prominent age group swimmers over the past number of years, led by 2020 NCAA All-American Nina Kucheran, a rising junior at Florida State University. Due to the ongoing pool closure in Sudbury, Kucheran has recently made the move to Markham so she can resume training prior to returning to FSU.
Parker has helped revitalize the varsity program over the past decade, including winning OUA Women’s Coach of the Year honors this past February after leading the Voyageur women to a program-best fifth-place finish at the Ontario Championships.
Abigail McDonald, a captain on the Voyageur women’s varsity team, is among those leading the pursuit to reopen the pool.
“To myself, and to swimmers across the globe, swimming is not just a sport, it is a lifestyle,” McDonald said. “It is an outlet that we swimmers rely on every day. When we are happy, sad, angry, or frustrated, we swim. This makes swimming crucial to mental health and wellness.
“I can speak on behalf of all swimmers in saying that the past five months without the sport we love has been the toughest we have experienced. Canada is slowly moving back to its normal state, so why haven’t the swimmers in Sudbury?”
Laurentian, which was the first university in Canada to suspend in-person activities due to COVID-19, will host the majority of its fall classes online. There won’t be any OUA sanctioned competitions until at least January, but several student-athletes are planning to return to campus for the resumption of practices in September. The varsity swimmers continue to hold out hope that there will be a pool available for use as soon as possible.
“These past five months without swimming have been really difficult for me and my teammates,” said fellow team member Ryllie Tryon, who, like McDonald, is an SLSC product. “Typically, we rely on swimming as not only our sport but also our therapy. Both our training and mental health have suffered because of its long closure.
“It is essential for us that when September comes, we are able to utilize this facility again; need some form of normalcy. Over the course of my 15-year swimming career I have never been out of the water this long and I know I’m not the only one. Please open our pool!”
The university lists the reopening of the recreation centre as part of its third phase of returning to campus, while the city sent out a notice in June that said a few other local pools would be closed until at least September 7.
Men’s team captain Dante Di Lello added: “Being able to train at the pool for us university swimmers is everything.
“Going to the pool to train can be a sort of stress relief, therapy, safe space and much more. Swimming is our lifestyle, so the pool is our home, and we’d do anything to have it back open.”