By Dan Walton
Being able to train outdoors makes the Oliver pool a useful venue for regional Olympians.
The athletes training through the Penticton chapter of Special Olympics came down to Oliver pool recently to prepare for the provincial championships next month in Kamloops.
The team normally trains using the pool at the community centre in Penticton, which is completely indoors, whereas the competition in Kamloops will be outdoors.
“The sun in your face makes a difference but I was able to adapt to it,” said Tiffany Bjorndal, who had never trained in a pool outdoors before.
Bjorndal has qualified to compete in the provincials before, but that was in the team sport of baseball, and she’s eager to compete in an individual competition.
“What it’s going to take to win is a lot of positive energy and hard work,” she said.
And the effort is noticeably there – head coach Marlene Keen said that Bjorndal is one of her hardest workers.
But Bjorndal credits her coach for getting her where she is.
“I really like how hard (Keen) pushes us and she pushes us because she wants us to be great at what we do. She cares a lot about us.”
Keen, who’s been coaching the program for at least 15 years, finds it exciting to watch the constant progress and hard work of her athletes.
“I get a lot out of working with special needs,” she said. “It’s fulfilling to me because I enjoy watching them have fun and do well at a sport they can all do well at.”
“Without Marlene I would not be the athlete I am today,” said another one her athletes, Tolan Lloyd-Walters.
Lloyd-Walters has been swimming since he was six years old and he loves meeting new people through the program.
“And I have a fantastic coach who’s been teaching me quite a bit,” he said.
Another member of the team, Ryan Kruger, loves swimming with the ladies, according to his teammates. This will be the second time that Kruger will compete in the provincials and he’s hoping to qualify for the nationals. He’s currently practicing his breaststroke when he’s in the pool and building muscle at the weight room during the week.
Alberto Holz, who was also practicing his backstroke, said the sport is challenging and a lot of fun.
“When you practice, practice makes perfect,” he said.
Oliver’s Kyle Sanderson, who used to compete with the Mission Marlens, said he’s a swimmer because “it makes you stronger, faster and it’s fun to work with friends.”
Sanderson said swimming in an outdoor pool is pretty fun, although a little bit different from doing it indoors.
“You don’t see the sun when you’re closed off indoors,” he said.
Amanda Schleppe from Okanagan Falls enjoys the aesthetic difference of an outdoor venue.
“It’s nice because if you’re racing outdoors you get a change of scenery,” she said.
Schleppe qualified for the World Championships back in 2015, travelling to Los Angeles to compete. She’s hoping for repeated success this year.
“If you really want to get somewhere, really focus on it and you can go,” she said.
Also on the team is Angela Klein, whose arthritis makes it challenging for her to participate in other sports.
“The water feels really good on my joints. I love swimming, I’m basically a fish in the water,” she said, adding that her mom used to struggle to get her and her brother out of the pool when they were younger.
Klein hopes to strengthen her upper arms and work on her breast stroke before provincials, and she has faith that coach Keen will keep her on her her toes.
“Marlene works us really hard,” she said. “She makes us bust our butts every practice which is what every good coach should do.”