Calgary

Longtime swim coach got her start after nearly drowning

Not a day goes by when Sharon Barr isn't on the deck of a pool. She teaches kids, teens and adults in Calgary how to swim better and faster.

Sharon Barr marks 25 years as head of the Glenmore Seals Swim Club

Not a day goes by when Sharon Barr isn't on the deck of a pool. She teaches kids, teens and adults in Calgary how to swim better and faster.

This year marks Barr's 25th anniversary as the head coach for the Glenmore Seals Swim Club.

Evey though Barr was a champion swimmer herself who broke many Canadian records, she was not a water baby. In fact, she didn't even consider learning how to swim until she was 11.

"My dad was a commercial fisherman and we had a cabin and we used to do a lot of fishing," said Barr.

The pair were casting from the banks of a river near Prince Rupert, B.C., one day when Barr felt a big jerk on her rod, and was pulled in.

"A normal human being would let go of the fishing rod. But my mom was way too excited about the fish. So she held onto the rod as she was carried down the river," said Barr’s daughter, Tammy.

Her mother didn't know how to swim and neither did her grandfather, even though he was the captain of a halibut fishing boat in the Bering Sea.

"He had always said that if he fell in, he'd be dead before the boat turned around to get him because it's so cold," said Tammy.

Barr's father chased her down the edge of the river until he found a spot that was shallow enough for him to jump in and pull her in to shore. Barr doesn't recall feeling scared.

"I was just excited that I caught the fish. A 15-pound steelhead."

But it was that near-death experience that prompted her parents to put her in swimming lessons. Two months after starting, she was asked to join the swim club. Shortly after that, she broke the Canadian record in her age group for the 400-metre freestyle during a training session.

"I finished the set and my coach says, 'You didn't do the right amount of lengths.' I said, 'Yes I did.' He said, 'No you didn't.' So I did another one. And he said, 'Oh, I guess you did do the right amount.'"

Barr went on to compete in the 1963 Pan American Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and helped the Canadian women's team win silver in the 4x100-freestyle relay. However, she picked up a virus in South America and couldn't compete in the Olympic trials the following year.

Instead of training for another four years, Barr decided to take a full scholarship at Simon Fraser University and got an education degree.

She went on to teach all over the interior of British Columbia and started the Cranbrook Tritons in 1973 and the Terrace Bluebacks in 1974. Both swim clubs still exist.