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Yellowknife swimmers frustrated pool hasn't reopened

The president of a Yellowknife swimming club is frustrated that pools in other regions have already started reopening, but he’s not seeing any timeline for the Yellowknife pool.

City says it's working with chief public health officer on 'possible reopening' of more facilities

Tegan Konge and her brother Leo after their relays at the Western Canada Summer Games. Konge is anxious to get back in the water, while she waits for Yellowknife's pool to reopen. (Submitted by Tegan Konge)

Yellowknife high schooler Tegan Konge was having a great swim year this spring.

By March, she had already met her 2020 goal to swim the 400-metre individual medley, a race that involves every major stroke, in under six minutes.

Then, COVID-19 hit. 

The Yellowknife pool closed, along with most public gathering spots. Now, when Konge thinks about swimming again after months without doing laps, she gets nervous. 

"Missing a day in the pool, it takes two days to get it back," said the 14-year-old. "No matter what we do on land ... it's really different because you have to get a feel for the water."

Rémy Leclerc, president of the Yellowknife Polar Bear Swim Club, says for young athletes like Konge to get back to where they were, Yellowknife's Ruth Inch Memorial Pool needs to open as soon as possible. 

"The swimmers who are going to get hit the hardest or have been hit the hardest are those who are trying to qualify for Canada Summer Games next summer," said Leclerc.

A file photo of the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool in Yellowknife. It closed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

He's frustrated that pools in other regions have already started reopening, but he's not seeing any timeline for the Yellowknife pool.

The Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse opened for lap swimming earlier this month; the Iqaluit pool announced it would open with certain restrictions in July.

Leclerc showed CBC an email to NWT Swimming — the territorial organization responsible for competitive swimming — from Protect NWT, the public health arm of the government handling COVID-19-related questions. 

Remy Leclerc, president of the Yellowknife Polar Bear Swim Club, wants the local pool to reopen as soon as possible.  (Submitted by Remy Leclerc)

In the email, a representative from Protect NWT told the organization that their plan to get back to swimming seemed complete, but a final approval couldn't be made until the city and territory came to an agreement about how to reopen the pool. 

But in a previous email in the thread, an NWT Swimming representative told Protect NWT that Yellowknife officials "will not entertain opening until we have permission to return" from the territorial government. 

The territory's COVID-19 spokesperson Mike Westwick said the government has not yet approved a plan to reopen the pool.

"The City of Yellowknife has not submitted a plan for consideration for the pool," said Westwick in an email Tuesday. "The swim club has — it is with our environmental health unit. None have been approved yet."

CBC asked the City of Yellowknife what still needs to be done to reopen the pool and when it will reopen.

In an email, spokesperson Alison Harrower said the city is working with the chief public health officer on "the possible reopening of additional facilities." But she said the pandemic and its public health guidelines make opening and operating certain facilities more difficult.

As for swimmer Konge, she said she's focusing on staying active and having fun with her friends. 

"It's definitely different, but I mean, it's not horrible."

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