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Part 2: Q&A With Associate HPD Wayne Lomas

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Wayne Lomas started to work with Swimming Canada as the Associate High Performance Director and National Para Swimming Coach in 2018. With a successful 2019 World Para Swimming Championships under his belt, things were looking promising for the team heading into 2020. But the unprecedented events of 2020, including the pandemic-induced postponement of the Olympic/Paralympic Games, has turned things upside down. This is the second part of the Q&A discussion with Wayne on his approach to leading the Paralympic Program so far, especially during these uncertain times:

Q: What positives can we take away from the-year-that-was into 2021?

A: The year 2020 began much with all the promise, anticipation and excitement that is to be expected in a Paralympic Games year – and certainly played out in a way that no one could have expected. At the same time, the Paralympic swimming community is resilient and used to uncertainty.

I am privileged to lead a program that, in the days before the 2017 World Para Swimming Championships, had the event cancelled due to a series of devastating earthquakes in Mexico City. In January 2019, the host for that year’s World Championships was changed less than six months before the first race was meant to start – without any knowledge of a replacement venue until 3 months later. Our swimmers, coaches, families and Paralympic Program staff know how to roll with the punches, adapt and overcome!

The way I look at the pandemic is that we have a choice about our mindset: are we lamenting the season that wasn’t – ‘the one that got away’, or are we refreshed, inspired and ready to make 2021 better than 2020 ever could be? The Iranian-New Zealand artist Nabil Sabio Azadi wrote that, “When the fishermen cannot go to sea, they repair the nets” which is a poetically blunt way of describing the two choices before us.

Each of us will see a silver lining in a part of the pandemic; adopting a positive mindset will frame how bright that silver is. For me, it’s about taking time to rest, recover and strengthen the weaknesses identified from last year’s events, taking on a hobby or learning a new skill.

One positive activity that took place in spring and early summer were the many coach education sessions that were run by Swimming Canada’s staff, the Canadian Swim Coaches Association and other organizations. I think this focus and attention on coach education has been a big positive that we can take away from the pandemic. The other big positive I saw was the way that coaches, swimmers and IST were able to maintain meaningful connection and support for one another while training virtually.

Q: Do you know what classification will look like in 2021? 

A: In a word, no. As with all aspects of our national program and the international calendar, the where, when and how of classification – both domestic and international – remain unknown. Our staff have provided expert advice to World Para Swimming (WPS) on ways to increase safety and mitigate health risks during classification events, and we will adopt all of the recommendations ourselves. These recommendations include physical distancing as much as possible, the use of personal protective equipment, and limiting the numbers of people in an area.

We can be innovative. We will increase opportunities for Level 2 and 3 classification, as long as it is safe to do so, during the upcoming winter and spring. As soon as we can publish details, we will.

We also continue to engage with WPS on ways to ensure that international classification is provided to Tokyo-eligible swimmers in a timely and safe manner.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: As coaches, we work each day to facilitate the dreams, goals and aspirations of swimmers across the country. It’s our job to provide the support, guidance and direction for each swimmer to experience Peak Performance: a lifetime best performance on the day that matters.

Through what has undoubtedly been a very difficult time, it’s even more important that we not lose sight of this goal as we relaunch into the Tokyo Paralympic Games and the major events that will follow them. As our High Performance Director John Atkinson has said, it will take the combined will and commitment of swimmers, their families, clubs and their boards, volunteers, administrators, coaches, provincial sections, facility owners, universities and municipalities to emerge from the depths of 2020 and into 2021. I’d also like to acknowledge the incredible support that our swimmers, coaches and national program receive from our key partners: Own The Podium, Sport Canada, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and the Institut National du Sport du Québec.

Our partners have a powerful role to play in our team’s continued journey to being consistently ranked in the Top 8 nations in the world at the Paralympic Games. We have done it before and I am convinced that, together, we can do it again.