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!)