A young Airdrie swimmer made a splash at the recent Swim Alberta provincial championships, nabbing two podium placements – including a gold medal.
Ava Phillips is a 12-year-old member of the Airdrie Phoenix Swim Club. Competing at the Swim Alberta Provincial Championships at the Kinsmen Sport Centre in Edmonton earlier this month, she swam her way to a first-place finish in the 50-metre (m) breaststroke for her age group. She managed another podium placement by finishing third in the 100-m breaststroke, as well as ninth in the 200-m breaststroke.
The Grade 7 student of Windsong Heights School said it was thrilling to win gold at her first ever provincial championship, adding the final race in the 100-m breaststroke was extremely close between her and her two nearest competitors.
“It was really exciting and I was happy,” she said. “I was surprised because at first, I didn’t think I’d actually won it. But it was super exciting because I got to represent my team and it was really fun. It was such a close race, and when I figured it out, it was just really exciting.”
The precocious 12-year-old said she's been swimming for six years, and is eager to compete at higher levels in the years to come. Phillips said she plays other sports recreationally, such as basketball for her school team and hockey for fun, but added the pool is her favourite place to be.
“Swimming is 100 per cent my favourite sport,” she confirmed. “I play school sports like basketball and stuff, and I also play hockey for recreation, but swimming is what I’m most involved with and like the most. I’m hoping to get on Team Canada and maybe get on a university team and maybe someday be in the Olympics.”
One of Phillips' coaches at Airdrie Phoenix Swim Club is Shane Esau, a veteran coach of 35 years. The long-time mentor said Phillips' main strength as a swimmer is her versatility, as she's strong in all four strokes.
He added she's also very cerebral – she's always mapping out ahead of time what she needs to do to be successful in her races.
“When we were preparing her for the race, she started thinking about the things she had to really do well, that we’d been working on in practice, to win the race,” he said.
Phillips was one of two swimmers in Edmonton representing the Airdrie Phoenix Swim Club. The other was 16-year-old Aysiah Dunham, of Carstairs. She qualified for the finals in the 50-m and 100-m backstroke, as well as the consolation final in the 200-m backstroke.
“She was racing some national team swimmers and was in the finals in the 50 and 100 back, and the consolation finals for the 200 back,” Esau said, adding Dunham will be back in the pool in Calgary for the Western Canadian Championships this weekend, from March 16 to 19.
As she's still under 13, Phillips won't be able to compete at westerns this weekend. Instead, she will prepare for a competition in Medicine Hat in May, followed by a competition in Red Deer in June, and a competition in Edmonton in July, before the summer provincial championships take place later that month in Calgary.
According to Esau, the two athletes did their small club proud at provincials – members of the Phoenix Swim Club were cheering Phillips and Dunham on from back home throughout the weekend.
“We were second in the small-team category at provincials…so we’re a small team, but I think a very good group of athletes,” he said. “We are very team-oriented. I’m really happy with the group we have because they all get along really well. It’s not a group of individuals. It’s a team of people who work together to all be better.”