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On guard for Team Canada

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2014 WORLD LIFE SAVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Blowing snow and reduced visibility. Kendra Freund was not expecting -10 Celsius in Tillsonburg without wind chill. Taking wind chill into consideration, Thursday's temperatures dropped below -20 C.

"It's cold," nodded lifeguard Kendra Freund, a freshman University of Maine at Fort Kent who, quickly checking her phone, confirmed it was -22 C in Fort Kent, Maine, and -32 C with wind.

"My mom had said you don't need to bring any of your big coats or boots because it's so nice..." she laughed.

After nearly a month in 'balmy' southern Ontario, the Delhi District Secondary School grad was about to return to the deep freeze of northern Maine where she majors in environmental science (conservation/wildlife).

While it wasn't bad, weather-wise, most of her holidays, it was definitely not Southern France and palm trees where only a few months ago Freund was at the World Life Saving Championships – Rescue 2014 (Sept. 16-21). She recalls it being hot in Montpellier and Le Grande Motte, despite some stormy weather, during a week of training and week of competing.

"It was hot – really hot," said Freund. "It was like as far south as you can possibly go in France on the Mediterranean coast. It was like 26 C every day, it was hot all the time."

One of a dozen members of the national youth team (15-18 year olds), 18-year-old Freund was part of a 200-person Canadian delegation of lifesaving junior and senior (open) athletes, technical officials and delegates in France.

Freund's events included both individual and relays. She finished top 20 in board race; 12th board rescue; 8th rescue tube rescue; 7th beach relay; 16th oceanwomen relay; and 16th in 100m manikin tow with fins.

"That was my favourite event – manikin tow with fins – and I messed it up. My clip was so bad... I was so mad."

She was 12th in 4x50m medley relay, and she competed in beach sprints and beach flags.

"We beat the US – they were 12th, were 10th (out of 45 countries)," Freund noted, happy with her results and her country's results.

"I think I did it as well as I could have, honestly. Countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Italy where they practice in five-foot waves all the time, it was easy for them. Countries where they have more experience in that environment – big waves and rough water – no matter what, they're going to have an advantage. Countries like that were definitely harder competition for us Canadians."

The first day was delayed by three hours due to lightning and rough water.

"The waves were huge and we just weren't used to the conditions. In board rescue, we said 'we're so out of our league,' but we did it, we made it to B Finals. And we placed well. But it was so easy to tell by the times which teams were in that environment all the time.

"The juniors competed on the beach for the first two days, and by the time Open (seniors) got to the beach, the weather was better and the water was flat. So the juniors got the rough end of the deal – but it was really fun to be in the waves and get the surf-type water."

Freund has competed at beachfront events before, but never in salt water. Even though it was a disadvantage for some Canadians, at the same time it made the event special for Freund.

"It was so much better, it almost felt more 'real.' The environment was so cool with the palm trees and surf – kind of a Baywatch thing. I think it was better because it was so different from what I'm been used to, which is Lake Ontario. The Mediterranean's totally different. Just dealing with the salt water was different – it hurts a lot more when it gets in your eyes."

Her competition concluded with a bonus day in Paris due to flights being cancelled by an Air France strike.

"So we had a day in Paris... it was cold, no palm trees," Freund smiled.

Overall, it was an unforgettable experience.

"The most amazing experience in my life," said Freund. "Literally. The soccer (at UMFK) comes close, but I definitely think France tops it. This was more of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you're competing for your country against people from Japan and Germany and... even just walking down the beach you'd see Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Italy, Hong Kong, China... it was great. When I was little, that's what I wanted, but I never thought I'd actually be able to... So actually doing it was really, really cool. The soccer scholarship, I always thought that was 'in my grasp,' but this, I didn't really think I could reach it. But I did, and it's definitely No. 1."

Freund was supported financially in her trip to France by former friends and lifeguards in Tillsonburg, who donated more than $1,000 from summer fundraisers.

"I am so thankful and very appreciative of the Tillsonburg Community Centre for organizing all the fundraising events and everyone who donated and helped me achieve this huge accomplishment!"

Freund's competitive lifesaving started several years ago in Tillsonburg (while in Grade 9), where she had also been a member of the South Western Aquatics swim club. She was selected for the national youth team after competing at the Canadian Pool Lifesaving Championships in April 2014 competing with the Mississauga team, which included former Tillsonburg coach Jeff McCurdy.

Her first World Life Saving Championship was also her last as a junior competitor – Freund celebrated her 19th birthday on Jan. 11.

"I think I'll probably keep with it as much as I can, and if another opportunity arises then I'll definitely train more and do what I can to get that experience. But I think now I'll probably put it on the backburner and put soccer first."

Freund, who has a partial scholarship for soccer at UMFK, had to take a one-month leave of absence from the soccer program to compete in the World Championships.

"All my professors knew I was going, same thing with my coach – I got permission from him. I was basically in class for one week before I had to leave."

She was quick to catch up when she returned to school.

"It wasn't an issue at all. It took me maybe a week to get everything back in order."

Her UMFK soccer team went on to win the 2014 USCAA nationals, and they will be back on the fields in the spring.

"I start spring training when I go back next week," said Freund. "Pre-season, we were training twice a day every day of the week. Once we started the season, we went to once every day of the week, some Sundays off. After nationals we didn't have anything, so we did our own training. And now it's spring training."

Her injury-free freshman season, playing outside midfielder, was a nothing but a positive experience. She wasn't a starter, but she subbed into every game.

"I love it there, it's a great school."

She also loves the town of Fort Kent, which has a population just over 4,000.

"It's so relaxed there."

She admits not everyone has adjusted to smalltown life, however.

"There are people from San Francisco and they say, 'there's nothing to do in a small town.' And I'm like 'welcome to my life!' The difference is, I know how to have fun in a small town... they don't. They say, 'there's nothing to do,' and I say, 'yeah there is, let's go play in the snow.'"

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