Nfld. & Labrador

Aquarena pool remains closed, dashing dreams of Olympic hopefuls

For the past two years, 13-year-old Jaxson Row has been training hard to qualify for the Olympic trials, but his goal is looking less attainable as the only pool in the province he can qualify in is closed for the foreseeable future.

No recreation or swim lessons available either for other groups

From left, Jaxson Row, Cormac Bull and Kate Williams say they have nowhere to properly practise for national events after the Works announced the Aquarena would stay closed. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

While pools across the province have reopened after a COVID-19-prompted shutdown, the Aquarena is continuing to keeps its doors, and swims lanes, closed — causing turmoil for this province's Olympic hopefuls.

Jaxson Row, 13, is one of them. 

For several years, he has been waking up and making a splash long before most people have opened their eyes. He trains at the Aquarena pool, part of Memorial University's campus, in the hopes his hard work will allow him to qualify for the Olympic swim trials now scheduled for next year.

Even though he holds some of the fastest swim times for his age in Canada, his goal is looking less attainable.

In order to qualify for any national meets, including Olympic trials, athletes need to swim in a regulated Swim Canada 50-metre pool — and the Aquarena is the only one in the province. 

It's not just racing. It's so much more.- Cormac Bull

"It's really disappointing, I was really looking forward to this year. I have been training for trials for a year and a half, working my butt off," said Row.

"For that to just be taken away and being told I can't anymore … it's upsetting."

Row has been working hard to qualify for Olympic trials but he isn't able to do that if he can't practise and race in a 50-metre pool. (Submitted by Carla Row)

If the pool does not open, Row — a member of the St. John's Legends Swim Team — and his mother are considering moving to another province where he can access a long-course pool. 

"To leave solely because we no longer have a 50-metre pool is devastating," said Carla Row, Jaxson's mother. 

But Carla said even convincing another swim team out of province to give up a spot on their team for a swimmer from Newfoundland and Labrador could be a challenge.

"Everybody who is looking to qualify for national meets in Canada are looking for a 50-metre pool and to give that space up to another province, I cannot see that happening," said Carla.

Health, financial reasons cited

Several reasons have been cited for why the pool can't reopen, according to a statement on the Works' website. 

"The health and safety of our employees and customers is our number one priority. Given the guidance on gatherings outlined in public health documents, The Works will not reopen the Aquarena pool in the short term."

It's unclear just why that is. Pools across the province, including the Paul Reynolds Community Centre, have reopened after closing during the height of the pandemic. 

Provincially owned pools in Gander and Corner Brook opened about one month ago. In those communities, both swim team clubs spoke out about the hardships of having nowhere to train. 

Cormac Bull, wearing the blue cap, has already qualified for Olympic trials, but will have to move to another province to practise in a 50-metre pool if the Aquarena stays closed. (Submitted by Carla Row)

But in addition to health reasons, the statement also adds, "At this time, it is not financially feasible to operate the Aquarena pool with limited capacities."

Craig Neil, general manager of the Works, said staff are looking for solutions. 

"This was a very difficult decision. However, there are significant costs to operating the pool. With the reduced capacities for the pool and other reductions in business at the Works, which includes not having students on campus, it is a fiscal challenge," said Neil in an email.

The Aquarena Fitness Centre and the Field House remain open. 

Big impact on big contenders

Row said on his swim team alone, there are six athletes who have qualified for Olympic trials and about the same number are trying to qualify.

Kate Williams, 17, qualified for Olympic trials last year but now she has nowhere to properly train in order to get ready for the competition. 

Williams said there are 25-metre pools available in the province but it's completely different from swimming in a 50-metre pool. 

"Without this it puts a big impact on our training and we have nowhere to race for the long course season, which is how everyone else in the country will race throughout the year," she said.

Other competitive swimmers like Cormac Bull, 16, who has also qualified for Olympic trials, said he is concerned about his athletic future, especially as he looks for university scholarships, but he's also upset for the other people who use the pool. 

"Recreation swims, learning how to swim in general, all of that — it's not just competitive swimming that is losing," he said.

"It's not just racing. It's so much more."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meg Roberts is a video journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in St. John's. Email her at meg.roberts@cbc.ca.

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