With the abundance of swim-centric activities in the valley, swimming is an important skill for valley residents, young or old. That’s part of the reason why Karen Fahrni, owner of Columbia Chiropractic, takes some of her spare time to coach children as part of the Columbia Valley Otters Swim Club.
“For me, getting to the pool is the hard part, but getting there and seeing these kids grow and seeing the smiles on their faces when they accomplish something… that’s the biggest thing for me,” Fahrni said.
“I feel like I’m such a part of these kids’ lives—helping them grow and helping them achieve their goals is what really drives me to coach.”
Fahrni, a former national and university-level swimmer who was born and raised in Edgewater, used to be a part of the former incarnation of the Otters, which began in Radium in 1992.
Fahrni began coaching while living in Calgary. Upon becoming a chiropractor and opening a business back home in the valley about two years ago, she was asked to coach the team, eventually becoming head coach.
She says that when she began coaching the Otters the club had about 30 kids, but that number has now swelled to about 80.
“It’s extremely hard to find high-level coaching for any sport in the valley,” Fahrni said. “With me, they do have access to that kind of coaching— I mean I used to train up to nine times a week with Olympic-level swimmers.”
The Otters also have the unusual distinction of being the only swim club in Canada that trains outdoors all year round. This isn’t necessarily a voluntary choice, due to the lack of facilities in the area, but it does provide a unique and interesting aspect for club members.
The club trains all year round in the village, and is split into a number of sessions according to the season. Swimmers don’t have to swim during the cold winter months if they don’t want to, but Fahrni says that some kids do it anyway.
Ages of swimmers range from around 4-17, and registration is always open for anyone interested.
The club, as a competitive swim team, most recently competed in Calgary and sent 17 swimmers into a field of 280, which Fahrni says was a little intimidating for her swimmers, who are used to a quiet outdoor pool.
However, the Otters had an extremely successful showing, with four swimmers placing in the top 10 in their respective categories.
Grace Fitzsimmons (11-12 year old category) placed 3rd in 50m breaststroke and 4th in 200m individual medley , while Isabella Hul (10 and under) placed 3rd in 50m breaststroke, Shana Walsh (10 and under) placed 2nd in 200 individual medley, 5th in 50m freestyle, and Meghara Walsh (10 and under) placed 9th in 50m breaststroke.
The team’s next competition takes place in Cranbrook December 11, and while Fahrni says she sees a bright future for all her competitive swimmers, that’s not necessarily what the program is all about.
“It’s not just about being a race team, our program incorporates all levels of swimming,” Fahrni said, “from the kids who just want to learn the basics to those who want to be confident in the water, and those who want to be a high-level athlete.”