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CanAm Para Blog
20 March 2015
Dynamo swimmer Vica Beelner Competing in CanAm Paralympic Games!
Our own Vica Beelner in in Canada competing in the CanAm Paralympic Games, and her coach, Collin Burchins is with her as well.  Collin has agreed to 'blog' each day during the meet, so we get an inside peak into the competition.
 
Greetings from the North!  After a long day of traveling, airports, and connecting flights I have finally arrived in chilly Toronto.  This trip is exciting for me for two reasons, the first being that this is my first journey outside the U.S., and the second being the unique opportunity to watch some fast swimmers from all around the world, including one swimmer that I have the pleasure of coaching!  Vica Beelner, who swims with AG1 Green at Chamblee, is participating in 
the 2015 CanAm Paralympic Games.  The meet is hosted at in Toronto, Ontario at Toronto's new PanAm Sports Centre.  The center, built in September of 2014,  represents Canada's largest investment in amateur athletics.  The center boasts two 50 meter pools and separate diving well in addition to first class facilities for other sports including basketball, volleyball, and indoor track to name a few.  Toronto is slated to host serval high caliber competitions here over the next few years, and the CanAm games is the first major swimming event they will host.  The competitors are all para-athletes who have come from all over the world to compete against one another.  The athletes are primarily from Canada and the United States, but others countries such as Japan and France are represented as well.  
21 March 2015
CanAm Paralympic Games Blog-Day 2
Our own Vica Beelner in in Canada competing in the CanAm Paralympic Games, and her coach, Collin Burchins is with her as well.  Collin has agreed to 'blog' each day during the meet, so we get an inside peak into the competition.
 
Greetings once again from Canada!  Today was the first day of competition for the CanAm Paralympic Games.  The only event on the schedule today for Vica was the 50 meter backstroke.  During the prelims session she we went a 1:18.18 which was a huge drop from her entry time of 1:31.38.  She qualified for finals and swam the event again in the evening.  She battled some tough conditions having to go through the process of lining up in some warm waiting rooms for long heats of the 400 free before she raced the 50 back again.  Her night swim was a little slower than the morning, but still exciting to watch.   
There are lots of subtle differences I've picked up comparing this meet to others I've been to, and it's taken me a lot of thinking and questions to other coaches and officials  to figure out if the difference are from this being a Paralympic meet or an international meet.  One thing that keeps throwing me off is that the lanes are numbered 0-9 rather than 1-10, which causes much strife when I try to have Vica do starts in the wrong lane during warm up.  This idiosyncrasy is due to a FINA regulation and appears in all FINA regulated events.  If you think about then Georgia Tech pool, they also have a lane 0,  but we just put it as lane 10 rather than 0. 
 
 Every meet I've been to or run has has had a huge emphasis on the timeline and moving along as quickly as possible.  Not the case here, there are only a few events offered per day, and the officials and swimmers are patient allowing lots of time between heats to allow all athletes to clear the water and get set up for the start.  Stress level for athletes seems to be as low as possible and the officials seem pretty relaxed as well.  
 
Meet warm up was different as well.  It certainly is not the free for all that some of our warm ups can be.  Part of that is due to the fewer number of athletes competing at this advanced meet, and part of it is the luxury of having another 10 lane 50m pool available to warm up in.  There were your normal lane assignments for pace and starts, as well as a the two lanes on the outside reserved for athletes classified as S1-S4 who have difficulty entering and exiting the water. 
 
Overall everyone is incredibly friendly and supportive of one another, from the coaches to the officials to the athletes.  Anytime an athletes walks out of the competition pool and over to the warm down pool you can hear the chorus of 'good jobs' and 'great swims' from all the other athletes.  The overall vibe of the meet is refreshingly lite and fun.  It's a good reminder for me about how fun and easy meets should be and that we should be thankful for the opportunities we have and not be bogged down by the petty and inconsequential.
22 March 2015
CanAm Paralympic Games Blog-Day 3
Our own Vica Beelner in in Canada competing in the CanAm Paralympic Games, and her coach, Collin Burchins is with her as well.  Collin has agreed to 'blog' each day during the meet, so we get an inside peak into the competition.
 
 

Today of the CanAm meet was Vica's busiest day by far.  Vica is swimming 3 out of the 4 events offered for her class today: 200 IM, 100 Breaststroke, and 50 Freestyle.  As with any swimmer with a full event set, our focus for the day was on time management.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the para-swim meets are much more laid back than meets we are used to.  Predicting how long until an event starts can be difficult with the long pauses between heats.  Vica had great swims in the morning starting with the 200 IM.  Her entry time was a short course time that had been converted to a long course time by the host team.  She was seeded with a 6:36.15 and finished with a time of 6:19.21 (that's a 16.94 second drop!) and qualifying her for finals.   In Vica's 100 BR she was not entered with a time, but swam a 3:24.93 also qualifying her for finals.  Her last event for the morning was the 50 freestyle.   Vica was entered with a 1:22.89 and swam a 1:21.90. 

 

In para-swim events each swimmer competes within his/her classification which is determined by an official during the classification process.  As I mentioned in a previous post, this was Vica's first opportunity to be internationally classified.  Classifications for most strokes begin with the letter "S" followed by a number.  The numbers all have varying meaning but can be broken down into three major categories.  S1-S10 are athletes with physical impairments, with an S1 being the least able in the water, and an S10 being the most able.  VIca is now internationally classified as an S5.  S11-S13 are athletes with visual impairments.  S11 athletes are totally blind and require the help of a "tapper" to indicate when the swimmer is approaching the walls. S13 athletes are partially blind athletes, or athletes who fit a legal definition of blind.  S12 athletes are in the middle of the two, with athletes who still retain some field of vision, but it is severely limited.  Most S12 athletes also use "tappers" to measure up distance to the wall.  The final class is S14, which is for swimmers who have a mental handicap.

 

During a preliminary round of the meet, classifications will compete with one another.  In order to qualify for finals, the swimmers must be in the top 10 of their individual classification.  This means that in the morning Vica swam with all other swimmers, but in the evening she swam with other S5 swimmers.  This meet has an even more unique set up for qualifying for finals because it is the Canadian-American games.  For final heats there are 5 spots reserved for the top 5 Canadian swimmers and 5 spots reserved for the top 5 American swimmers.  In heats that are not full (i.e. there are only 3 Canadians) the empty lanes will go to the next fastest swimmer, regardless of nationality.


For finals in the evening we again focused on making sure that Vica's time was well managed.  With shorter events, not as much time was required in the ready rooms which allowed for meaningful warm up right before races.  Vica dropped another 3 seconds in her 200 IM posting a time of 6:16.17 and placing 2nd her in class.  Her breaststroke had a little bit of an add, but the best story of the night was her 50 freestyle, where she dropped almost 3 seconds from her morning swim by going a 1:19.39!

 

I was once again struck by how wonderful and kind these athletes we towards one another.   Vica met another S5 swimmer from Loyola who was very excited to meet Vica at the meet.  She was so happy, in fact, that she gave Vica one of her medals to help encourage Vica to continue swimming and to continue competing.  There was one caveat though, and that was that once Vica starts to win her own medals, she had to reciprocate by finding the next young, up and coming S5 swimmer and encouraging them by giving one of her medals to this new swimmer! 

This marks the end of the weekend for me in Canada as my flight leaves early in the morning.  Vica has one more swim tomorrow (the 100 Freestyle) then she will be returning to Atlanta that afternoon.   We leave the meet with ideas and goals for our next season of training.  Vica spoke with other athletes her size has some ideas on stroke changes; I have collected some ideas after speaking to other coaches who were very open and willing to talk and share ideas.   Hopefully those who have followed us the past few days will come away with a greater understanding of para-swimming and will be excited to continue supporting Vica as she continues her swimming journey with us at Dynamo.  See y'all back in the states soon! (p.s. anytime I say y'all or ask for Coke I get odd looks...it'll be good to return south!)