Coaches concerned about public safety as pools re-open

By: Chloe Pommer

City pools, like the Pan Am Pool, reopened at 25 per cent capacity at the end of March./CHLOE POMMER

Some swimming coaches are concerned pool closures might leave new swimmers less prepared to navigate Manitoba’s waters this summer.

“I’m worried because there’s been such a long gap between the last time the kids swam and now,” said Steve Kok, the Learn to Swim supervisor at Seven Oaks Pool.

The city’s Learn to Swim program teaches kids how to swim and be safe around bodies of water. 

Kok said most people who participate in the program are newcomers to Canada and don’t have a lot of swimming experience.

“A lot of kids just never got any time in the pool whatsoever and, hopefully, there won’t be more drownings this summer.” 

Pool closures also presented issues outside the water: Lifesaving Society Manitoba and Red Cross couldn’t certify any new lifeguards.

Kok said the low number of lifeguards has been an issue for pools and beaches in and around the city for the past three years.

During the summer, Kok and Hannah Molloy, a Manitoba Marlins coach, are beach safety officers for the provincial government. To stay fit for beach season, Kok and Molloy train at the city pools.

“Since we haven’t been able to run any lifeguarding courses because of COVID, there’s pretty much no lifeguards in the province anymore,” said Kok. “There’s no new blood, so staffing is going to start to become an issue.” 

According to Lifesaving Society Manitoba’s website, lifeguarding courses will resume at the end of April.

The pool closures also affected athletes like Molloy’s younger brother, Eddie. He competes with the Marlins and recently committed to swim for the University of Alberta for the 2021-2022 school year.  

He said his swim team went from practicing at the pool nine times a week to Zoom calls three times a week. 

“It’s difficult training for swimming when you can’t physically be in the pool.”

Eddie and his teammates began practicing again on March 15, two weeks before the pools opened to the public. 

Since it’s been a long time since he raced, Eddie said he’s looking to perfect his technique and improve his times first. 

“The swimmers are used to spending a lot of time together, so being isolated from their friends and their sport was very difficult for the kids,” said the elder Molloy.

As long as the pool doesn’t shut down again, Eddie said he feels he’ll be ready to compete at the university level this fall.