WAC feature story on Swim Ontaro

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Windsor Aquatic Club - Celebrating 50 years


“The experience, the skill set learned, the pride to put the WAC shirt on. Then, later, as a head coach. It was family and it was home.” - Danielle Campo McLeod 

By David Grossman

Optimism, fame and prosperity bode well amongst a special group in southwestern Ontario.

It’s been that way for a long time, as witnessed in the incredible trend of speed, endurance and achievement that has sparked the community known as the “Automotive Capital of Canada” for the past 50 years.

Funny thing, but it has nothing to do with vehicles.

Try the sport of swimming – especially the Windsor Aquatic Club.

For five decades, swimmers, spearheaded by dedicated and professional coaches, officials and volunteers, have put together memories of impressive accomplishments, brilliant performances and heroic occasions. There were National champions, Canadian record holders, Olympians and Paralympians.

And, the success continues.

When understanding the beliefs and rallying cry of the Windsor Aquatic Club, not much has changed over time. It’s crystal clear: “high-quality professional coaching and technique instruction for all ages and abilities”.

Bob Martin is a name that goes back to the creation of the club. He was among a passionate group of vital and tenacious individuals that worked tirelessly, at times exhibiting some pressure on municipal authorities, with the goal of starting up a swim club - and one that would have sufficient access to pools.

In 1970, it happened and the Windsor Aquatic Club was born with Reg Chappell as the inaugural coach.

“I was a university student in 1969 and, at the time, learning to be a coach while pushing for a real swim club,” recalled Chappell, now a member of the Ontario Aquatic Hall of Fame. “When the club was formed a year later, a Board member offered me the job of coach. I was young, loved water, came cheap and got outstanding guidance about people skills. Now, looking back, this was the start of something really big for WAC.”

Chappell said that, back then, more than 100 kids were in the club. As the numbers grew, and when some 15 Ontario young age records were broken, he quickly realized there would be a need for more pool time. Along with fond memories, Chappell said the experience helped him become a better coach.

Bob Martin’s son, Doug, was the club’s first Olympian and was later inducted to the Windsor/Essex Sports Hall of Fame.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that WAC provided the launching pad for my university and swim careers,” said Martin, who competed in the 200-metre butterfly at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. “I was a sponge, the coaches moulded me to what I became. WAC set me up to be successful in swimming. I don’t know how else to put a value on it.

“The skills developed in swimming, I use in my career and life. The friendship, the fun. Without WAC’s approach to high performance, I am convinced there would be no way I would have been able to enjoy the unbelievable thrill of competing for my country - and right in Canada.”

Success breeds success and a young girl, diagnosed at the age of two with muscular dystrophy, became WAC’s most decorated athlete – and one of many dynamic swimmers to reach the world stage of premier athletes.

Back then, Danielle Campo built amazing outcomes out of ordinary, yet difficult situations.

At the age of 13, she competed in the 1998 World Paralympic Games (New Zealand) and set four records. There would be more to come: the 2000 Paralympics (Australia), the 2002 IPC World Championship (Argentina) and two Commonwealth Games – 2002 (Manchester) and 2004 (Greece). In total, 12 medals on the world stage as well as setting a pile of records.

“That club was amazing for me and what I remember clearly is that they were not only willing to accommodate me, but encouraged me to push harder,” said the Windsor native, now Campo McLeod and a mother of four as well as National Director for Muscular Dystrophy Canada. “For, it was a club where there were no limits. The experience, the skill set learned, the pride to put the WAC shirt on. Then, later, as a head coach. It was family and it was home.”

Julia Lane might very well be the next big name to emerge from WAC.

Currently, she holds five World records for swimmers with Down’s Syndrome, and expects to be competing in the 2022 championship in Portugal.

As Windsor’s oldest swim club, WAC is now closing in on a membership of almost 200 swimmers between the ages of five and 23. The club enjoys the luxury of three facilities – the Windsor International and Aquatic Training Centre, the Windsor Family Credit Union Centre Community Pool and the St. Denis Centre pool at the University of Windsor.

Steve Gombai said WAC will always have a special place in his heart.

“I was a kid that kept to myself, ate lunch alone at school and started swimming at age five or six,” he said. “I was horrible in swimming – last in everything, in every stroke, in all events and the typical kid just having fun."

“The pivotal moment came just before my 10th birthday – at a meet in Sudbury. I got six gold medals, broke a Canadian 10-and-under breaststroke record. It took a lot of grit, a different mentality, the ability to work hard and be successful. I learned it all at the Windsor Aquatic Club, just wouldn’t have accomplished any of it without them. It also laid the foundation for my success in life and the lessons that I now instill, as a teacher, in others.”

At one time, a member of the Canadian Junior National team and grad of Indiana University, Gombai set a World Masters record and five Canadian records. Several WAC records, including one that is almost four decades old, still have his name.

Jenny Agnew was one of the original members of the club, from age nine to 15. Among her accomplishments in a very successful swim career, once ranked No. 2 in Canada, were four National and Provincial relay records.

“I had this affection for water, but my sisters were all great swimmers,” said Agnew, whose father Ed, was among the founding members of WAC. “I joined the club at age nine, have fantastic memories of those days, the friends I met, and was always eager to get to the pool."

“It was more than swimming, it gave me pleasure, taught me about time management, to work hard, respect coaches – just a life-long journey. I also remember that first ribbon, at age eight. I was determined to win something, believed I had won a race, but many years later, my dad told me I didn’t. But it inspired me to keep working hard.”

Windsor Head Coaches

  • Reg Chappell - 1970-1971
  • Lou Pocock - 1971-1975
  • Tony Kennedy - 1975-1983
  • Tom Arusso - 1983-1990
  • Randy Bennett - 1990-1993
  • John Vadeika - 1993-1996
  • Deb Grant - 1996-1997
  • Andrei Semenov - 1997-2002
  • Rod Agar - 2002-2009
  • Bill Parks - 2009-2011
  • Danielle Campo - 2011-2012
  • Jeff Cowan - 2012-2015
  • Mike McWha - 2015-present

David Grossman is a veteran award-winning Journalist, Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.

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