Last year when Leah Soetaert qualified for swimming provincials in the 50 fly and 50 back, she likely imagined travel, hotel, restaurants, a packed venue, and lively head-to-head competition. That, of course, is not how the 2021 Provincials turned out.
Swim BC moved the competition online, and coaches had until Wednesday, April 7th to email times. In a season with pool shutdowns – and a modified schedule once pools were allowed to open – everyone knew that Soetaert would be hard pressed to get close to the impressive best times she’d clocked in a normal season. To add to the challenge, the timing of the competition came right after the club’s spring break. After a solid performance at Divisional Championships, Soetaert had a reduced training schedule for almost two weeks in the lead up to Provincial Championships.
With no competition, limitations to training, a year of Covid-19 restrictions, and the lack of typical meet atmosphere, how would Leah Soetaert find a way to excel in her two qualifying swims?
Early in the week, it looked like she might not. She tried the two swims on Tuesday morning practice, attempting to race against teammates who were working on a sprint set. Soetaert swam fast – even very fast – by most people’s standards, but the practice atmosphere inhibited her from going the speeds she can accomplish at a race. She tried again Saturday morning, but struggled once more with the lack of meet atmosphere.
“It’s been a hard year. It’s not what we’re used to,” explained Coach Tara Beck, “but on Wednesday, Leah showed up ready to race, ready to shine, and that’s just what she did.”
Faced with the time-submission deadline, Soetaert clocked a blazing fast 30.48 for her 50-meter fly and 32.32 for her 50 back. The 50 fly was mere tenths of seconds off Soetaert’s personal best time, a true accomplishment in this challenging year.
Where did she find the extra speed on this last day of competition? Coach Tara Beck had the idea of pitting two teammates against her. Leah Soetaert’s older sister Holly Soetaert raced her one length (25 meters) and Tatum Kipnik the other.
“We can’t go as fast as her in these events,” Holly Soetaert explained, “but if we just had to swim one length, we could go as fast as possible and really push her.”
Leah Soetaert responded well to the competition.
There was one more secret to Soetaert’s success, though. “My mom told me I could get Chopstick Truck for dinner if I went 30 seconds for my fly.” Leah Soetaert loves Chopstick Truck.
Tara Beck has now sent Leah Soetaert’s times to the virtual provincials. Swim BC will post results once tabulated. Regardless of the final rankings, the Elk Valley Dolphins are calling Soetaert’s performance a big success. Those are times to be proud of in any year, even more so in 2021. The efforts throughout the week – from Leah Soetaert, from teammates, from coaches, from parents, and from The Chopstick Truck – stand as an excellent example of the power of teamwork.