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Elk Valley Dolphins Use Tech to Overcome Pandemic and Geographic Isolation

August 11, 2020

As the easternmost swim club in British Columbia, the Elk Valley Dolphins and their Head Coach Aidan Chudleigh are used to feeling a little isolated. Fernie isn’t close to any major urban centres, so competing either means swimming in a lane next to your neighbour, or travelling often prohibitively long distances to find new adversaries. Fortunately, in a normal year there are plenty of neighbours to compete with; EVDSC boasts more than 2% of the local population as members of the club. But what happens when a virus shows up and shuts down every pool in the region?

That’s exactly what happened on March 18, 2020, and the pool has yet to reopen. With no aquatic facilities available anywhere in the region and athletes just getting ready to max out training for competition season, Head Coach Chudleigh had to pivot hard to ensure progress wasn’t lost and everyone stayed healthy—both physically and mentally. “Our goal during  COVID-19 is to keep the kids as connected as possible,” says Chudleigh. He started with weekly video chat meetings with his swimmers, keeping the tone fun and relaxed, even hosting some dress up days the kids loved. Chudleigh says, “the main message we have been trying to stress is to stay positive, because things will eventually get back to normal. As a club we definitely do not want to rush anything,” including dryland training.

Instead of pressing swimmers into a rigorous dryland schedule, coaches have deployed a smartphone app called TrainHeroic that allows for easy, remote distribution of exercise routines to swimmers, complete with video how to guides. The app allows swimmers to complete the exercises on their own timeline, giving them the freedom to accommodate healthy hobbies and outdoor activities, especially during periods of good weather. Surprisingly, coaches have found that athletes have very different preferences when it comes to training, with some completing their exercises early in the morning, while others work out into the midnight hour. It’s something Chudleigh didn’t expect to learn and coaches are looking at adding this component to the regular training schedule even after the pandemic has subsided.

Technology has also enabled Elk Valley swimmers to travel greater distances than they would normally be able to. The club has been meeting Hamilton Southeastern Swim Club in Fishers, Indiana, for weekly virtual yoga sessions, an activity that encourages healthy bodies and minds during a stressful time. Doubling down on mental health, coaching staff also hosted two mental health sessions with Olympic bronze medalist Chantal Van Landeghem and sports psychologist Shelbi Snodgrass. “It was amazing for our swimmers to have the ability to open up and talk about how they were handling the pandemic, which made the majority of them realize they were not alone,” says Chudleigh

Going forward, the club is hoping to see their pool reopen sometime in September. Until then, with the arrival of summer weather and the completion of their return to sport plan, swimmers will be able to get in the local lake for their first ever round of open water training. Coach Chudleigh is optimistic about the future but also concerned about competition opportunities if meets are going to be regionally limited. With Calgary three hours east and Kamloops seven hours west, meets may be hard to come by for clubs in the Kootenays. “We are going to have to get creative and get involved in as many virtual meets as possible,” he says. Luckily, the pandemic has provided plenty of chances to learn the technologies that will allow his swimmers to continue to excel.

One of the club’s best uses of video conferencing technology was their end-of-year wrap up presentation night. Over one hundred members attended, snacks were delivered to the homes of all the swimmers, and COVID-19 wasn’t mentioned at all during the hour-long celebration of the achievements of EVDSC athletes. “It was a great success and I think all 117 of our members are looking forward to the 2020-2021 season, whenever we can safely make that happen.”

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