Olympic freestyle swimmer Ryan Cochrane works with a number of Central Albertan swimmers at the Lacombe Kinsmen Aquatic Centre as part of his Swimming Smart Tour to the city last Wednesday evening. About 40 Central Albertan swimmers had the opportunity to learn from the accomplished athlete, going through drills, practicing stroke techniques and taking part in a Q&A session. (Ashli Barrett, Lacombe Globe)
Ryan Cochrane might be one of the best swimmers in the world, but rather than being placed on a high pedestal by young athletes, he’d rather dive into the water with them.
Last Wednesday, the three-time Canadian Olympic athlete did just that as he brought his Swimming Smart Tour to the Lacombe Kinsmen Aquatic Centre to work with nearly 40 Central Albertan swimmers.
While much of the session included dry land training and in-water drills, the 27-year-old distance freestyle swimmer tried to not only impart knowledge on swimming, but help athletes understand Olympic goals aren’t out of reach.
“The biggest goal is to normalize what athletes do to get to the Olympics,” said Cochrane. “I was fortunate in Victoria that there were a lot of Olympians when I was growing up, so I saw what they did, the work they did, but never put anyone on a pedestal.
“Hopefully these athletes see I have my ups and downs. That’s a bit of my talk – the entirety of what it takes to get to the Olympics and having those goals.”
Cochrane won Olympic bronze in Beijing in 2008 during the 1,500-metre freestyle event. In London in 2012, he took silver for the same event. Just two months ago, he had his eyes on the gold medal in Rio, however, he finished sixth, missing the podium entirely in what was likely his last games.
He says it’s important to celebrate the Olympic games, but understand there’s more to sport than the moments spent competing.
“It’s so pivotal to appreciate the Olympics, celebrate them, but also know the journey it takes to get there,” he said. “I think a lot of Canadians are supportive, but maybe not supportive all the time or unaware of the years in between games.
“It’s totally understandable, but for an athlete, you can’t forget how much work goes into it, the days and the times when you really don’t want to be doing it and the sacrifices made.”
More than anything, Cochrane wanted the young swimmers to set goals for themselves.
“You have to know what you’re working on every single time you get in the water. You have to know what you’re working towards every year so you can have a benchmark of how you’re doing,” he said.
“If you know your goals you’re going to be more willing to give things up – give up free time, give up sleep, or whatever it might be. Vagueness doesn’t help progression, so hopefully they get that and use all the skills they learn to get there.”
While the young athletes worked on a variety of skills, even racing against Cochrane in a relay, they were hardly the only ones taking something away from the experience.
“There’s excitement around swimming at a young age,” Cochrane said. “I think because I’ve been swimming for so many years, I forget what it’s like to have fun every day and not have to look at the long goal to appreciate what I’m doing.”
Cochrane visited several other communities in the province, including Medicine Hat and Airdrie. It isn’t the first tour he’s been on, but it’s the first that has brought him to smaller communities, rather than the big cities.
“When we set up the tour, we didn’t really anticipate that, but it makes sense because we’re always hitting the bigger markets,” he said. “I didn’t have a single club in a major city sign up which I wasn’t expecting.
“It’s been a very rewarding experience for me, meeting a lot of athletes who I normally wouldn’t meet and trying in a short three hours to give them as much information as I can.”
He added he felt bad because his clinics are probably the quietest and most receptive kids will be to advice all season long, but he hopes they’ll retain the skills they’ve learned.
“It’s so humbling to think how much they’re willing to soak it in and learn,” he said. “It’s been really rewarding to see even within a couple hours, how much they progress.
“Hopefully these athletes can set goals of their own – not necessarily Olympic goals – but something they can obtain and be happy about.”