The Wilmot Aces swim team has safely returned to the Wilmot, Woodstock and Tillsonburg pools, and its Tillsonburg area swimmers had their first ‘virtual’ swim meet of the season on the weekend.
“Now is the fun part, we’re going to do some racing,” said Joni Maerten-Sanders, head coach of the Wilmot Aquatic Aces at last Thursday’s practice in Tillsonburg.
The Nov. 7 meet was non-sanctioned, so times were not official.
“We’re racing against Norfolk, but it’s done virtually – we’ll compare times online. Norfolk is racing in their (Simcoe) pool,” said Maerten-Sanders.
“Starting in December, Swim Ontario and Swim Canada have given the go-ahead to start organizing sanctioned events. Then the times can be used to qualify for national events … but it will be virtual as well so we can compete in as many meets as we want. Because it’s virtual, we’ll be swimming in our own facilities with our own people, and we have to keep the numbers down to what is considered safe.
“In Tillsonburg, we could probably fit around 20 swimmers, and run four lanes instead of six.”
To keep it fair, sanctioned events will require a Level 4-5 official in the building to oversee rules.
“We might only race out of four lanes, and no spectators. They’re even talking no spectators at Olympic Trials in April,” said Maerten-Sanders.
Much work needs to be done before Trials, she said.
“There’s several proposals on the table right now. The first proposal is to run it as it would have ran… second plan, take the top swimmers in each event, then you come in, do your event and leave. Another plan, only the top 10 kids. It could be just the top eight…”
“We’ve been back in the pool since September, right after Labour Day. Very excited to be back,” Maerten-Sanders nodded.
“We’re at about 18 swimming here now, and we have a different 18 at Woodstock. In August we had ‘bubbles’ created and we’ve tried to keep all of the bubbles intact.”
COVID-19 safety precautions from the municipalities, province, Swim Ontario and Swim Canada are being followed, including COVID screening before entering pool areas, a limitation on the number of swimmers at practices and swim meets, and six-foot physical distancing.
“We had to go through a process where we started with two in a lane, and then after four weeks we were able to move to three in a lane, and then after another two weeks, as long as everything was going well, we could go to four in a lane,” said Maerten-Sanders. “We held back here and at Woodstock, just because the lanes are a little bit smaller, just to keep it safe.”
The entire Wilmot team currently has about 135 swimmers, compared to 170 at this time last year.
“We’ve had a small drop off, but it’s mainly the really young, little ones. We’re hoping that in January we can start some program for younger kids, figure out how to make it work.”
Everyone has been cooperative getting the pools back online, said Maerten-Sanders.
“The facilities have been fantastic. Julie (Dawley), here, has been great right from start to finish.
The Aces, based in Wilmot Township in Waterloo Region, expanded their swimming program in the fall of 2016 after the demise of South Western Aquatics, a swim team that had formed in 2003 after an amalgamation of the Tillsonburg Aquatic Torpedoes and Woodstock Piranhas. Its closure left dozens of local swimmers without competitive teams.
Maerten-Sanders, head coach of the Wilmot team and a former TAT swimmer, was approached by swimming families, and she stepped up to help. With approval from the Aces’ board, they set up training sessions at the Tillsonburg Community Centre and Woodstock Southside pools, allowing the local swimmers to join the Aces.