A high-school-aged swimmer from Airdrie competed against some of Canada's best at the recent Speedo 2023 Western Canadian Championships, hosted at Calgary's MNP Community Sport Centre from March 16 to 19.
Grade 12 swimmer Hailey Hughes was one of three members of the Nose Creek Swim Association (NCSA) to compete at the meet. Hughes, a senior at Bert Church High School, was the sole NCSA athlete from Airdrie to swim at westerns this year, after her strong performances at the provincial long-course championships the week before.
A breaststroke specialist, Hughes qualified for the western meet's 'B' final and then raced to a 16th-place finish in the 50-metre (m) breaststroke, with a time of 34.79 seconds.
“I definitely feel I could have done better, but it was nice to compete on the national level – the experience was good,” the 17-year-old said.
This was the second time Hughes has competed at this particular meet, having also done so last year. This year's competition included 412 swimmers from across western Canada, representing 56 teams.
Hughes said she's been swimming for 11 years, and likes the competitive environment the sport presents.
“My teammates and I train together and we’re all friends, but then we can also compete against each other and there’s that competitive nature,” she said, adding she hopes to continue her swimming career at the post-secondary level after graduating from high school this spring.
NCSA coach Alexx Diep praised Hughes' performance in Calgary, noting it was a step up from her performance at the same meet last year.
“Last year, she attended the same meet in Edmonton and did not make the finals at all,” he said. “So this year, being in the older age group and making a second swim is a good improvement for her.”
Diep said it's been a busy time for the NCSA which includes athletes from both Airdrie and Calgary.
In addition to the recent provincial and western Canadian championships, the club also just hosted the 25th annual John Timmermans Memorial at the Seton YMCA in Calgary. The John Timmermans Memorial is an invitational swim competition named after an Airdrie resident and former long-time advocate for the club, who passed away in 1996 after many years of supporting the NCSA and Airdrie's swimming community.
The long-time swim coach said an upcoming highlight will be the NCSA's trip to Kona, Hawaii from March 31 to April 10. According to Diep, the international excursion is a bi-annual training camp that intends to provide NCSA swimmers with both a multi-cultural travel experience and a platform to prepare their training for the summer swim season.
“We use these training camps to elevate their fitness…so that when we come back, we start from a new benchmark,” he said. “The baseline coming back will be higher – that’s one of the focuses of the camp.”
Of the 28 athletes who are heading to Hawaii, Diep noted 13 are from Airdrie. Their ages range from 12 to 17, with the bulk of the group being 14 or 15 years old.
Adding to the excitement of the upcoming trip is the fact the NCSA's last international training camp was cancelled due to COVID-19.
“Three years later, this is the first time we get to put this back on the calendar,” he said. “It’s given this trip a lot of excitement and hype – including myself. I’ve never been this excited for a training camp in a long time.”
Hughes will be among the Airdrie cohort taking part in the Hawaii trip, and said she's thrilled to be able to go, as this is her last eligible year before aging out of the club.
“I was supposed to go to Spain in 2020 but that got cancelled because of COVID, so this will be my first time actually going,” she said. “It will be my last year that I’m able to go, so I’m just excited to have the experience.”