South Okanagan swimmers and coach off to Euro 2020 in Belgium

South Okanagan swimmers and coach off to Euro 2020 in Belgium

Three members of the KISU Swim Club are headed to Belgium to compete in the Euro 2020 meet

Three young Penticton swimmers are now in Europe training to go up against some of the world’s best.

The trio — Justin Fotherby, Ashley McMillan and Acacia Benn — are all members of the KISU Swim Club arrived this week in Luxembourg, Belgium to compete in the Olympic-qualifying, Euro 2020 swim meet Jan. 24 to 26.

Joining them on the trip is KISU’s award-winning head coach Tina Hoeben, who will be one of three mentors travelling with the B.C. team. Brian Metcalfe of the Nanaimo Riptides and Scott Flood of the Langley and Abbotsford Olympians Swim Club are the other two.

Head coach Tina Hoeben of the KISU Swim Club talks with team member Justin Fotherby during training at the pool. They and two other KISU team members are in Belgium to compete in the Euro 2020. (Mark Brett – Western News)

KISU has the most swimmers on the 20-member provincial team — announced last October — of any club in the province.

“This speaks highly to the accomplishments of those three swimmers for sure, as well as our club, I think that’s pretty good kudos to Penticton,” said Hoeben. “There will definitely be some world-class swimmers there, some world-record holders, gold medal winners. People who are at the top of the swimming world.

“There are also a bunch of European teams that are sending their youth members so it will be good exposure, they’ll get to see some of the top [swimmers] in the world and then there will be a bit of drop in the depth of competition so they will get a chance to make finals. They’ll have a shot at getting a second swim.”

Of the three, only McMillan has competed outside of North America. She was in Budapest, Hungary last August for the FINA World Junior Championships.

More important to Hoeben than how well her charges do, is what they learn outside of the pool.

Justin Fotherby does his laps during training at the community centre pool in preparation for an upcoming meet in Europe. (Mark Brett – Western News)

“In the grand scheme of things the results are not that important in this meet,” she said. “Combining the travel, getting from here to Luxembourg, jet lag, taking care of yourself, all those details are an incredible experience so when they go to a meet where the results are important they have that under their belts.”

In addition to her own swimmers, she will have three others to look after.

She noted although they have already had two training camps there will still be some getting to know each other for coaches and swimmers.

Ashley McMillan checks her time during a break in training at the community centre pool. (Mark Brett – Western News)

“Lots of communication, really making sure they understand their role as an athlete working with a different coach and they really have to communicate how they’re feeling so I can help them build that relationship,” said Hoeben.

“I think by being calm myself is a good step in making sure they stay calm and, after all, it’s still just water, it’s nothing different from anything they’ve done before. It might feel like a life and death situation but they are really at no risk of drowning and so I think just relating it back to, it’s nothing they can’t handle.”

Meanwhile, for Benn, she will be celebrating her 18th birthday in style this year with the trip to Belgium.

The KISU Swim Club member and two of her teammates, Justin Fotherby, 16, and 15-year-old Ashley McMillan, were chosen to represent B.C. at the prestigious 22nd annual Euro 2020 meet.

“Yeah, it’s a great birthday present alright,” said Benn during a break in practice this week at the Penticton community centre pool. “Nervous, for sure. It’s a really fast, tight team and I don’t want to embarrass myself, but I don’t think I will.”

Acacia Benn finishes a training lap during the KISU Swim Club practice. She and two other swimmers and their coach are off to a meet in Europe next week. (Mark Brett – Western News)

READ MORE: KISU swim club paddles to first provincial championship

Dealing with a longterm injury for her has made the mental conditioning just as important as the physical.

“Because when my head hurts, my injury hurts. So just making sure my head doesn’t hurt is really important,” she said. “I trust my training, I trust my coach because nothing I do the day before is going to make a difference on that day in the pool.

“What I have done since I was three has brought me to be the athlete I am today.”

She is competing in the backstroke category.

For Fotherby, being in the proper mental state is also paramount.

Ashley McMillan of the KISU Swim Club during practice this week for her upcoming trip to Belgium. (Mark Brett – Western News)

“I’ve never been to Europe before and the first time actually going there is to swim at a high level of competition. I have to get my head to try and understand,” he said. “If I swim the best I can then I’ll succeed in what I want to accomplish.”

Fotherby is swimming in the individual medley.

READ MORE: Penticton KISU swimmers set Canadian records

For McMillan, the only one of three who has competed in Europe (the world juniors in Budapest, Hungary in August 2019) the Euro 2020 is a step up.

“This is really exciting, it’s a much bigger competitive horizon, there are more people to compete against and lots of times in Canada and the U.S. We really don’t get to compete against the top swimmers from Europe,” she said, crediting the coaching she received in Penticton for her success. “This is definitely going to be a stepping stone for the (Olympic) trials in the spring.”

She is also swimming the individual medley events.

The travel itinerary for the youth has them leaving Vancouver Sunday, flying to France, then Amsterdam and then Luxembourg.

Once they arrive, they’ll have three days to train and get used to the elevation in the city, which ranges from just over 700 feet above sea level to nearly 1,400.

The athletes are set to arrive back home at the end of the month.