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Celebrating Black History Month: Meet Coach Chantique Carey-Payne

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In honour of Black History Month, Swimming Canada is taking the time to celebrate the contributions and achievements of Black Canadian swimmers and coaches in our community.

Meet Coach Chantique Carey-Payne, the Head Coach of the University of Guelph Gryphons varsity swimming program.

Prior to becoming a coach, Carey-Payne swam varsity for the University of Guelph. She was a four-year Ontario University Athletics (OUA) All-Star, and earned a total of 11 OUA medals, and eight national university medals in her varsity career. Since her swimming career, she has turned her focus to coaching. Carey-Payne has been coaching the local Guelph Marlins Swim Club for the past six years sharing both her knowledge of swimming and competitive lifesaving. She also served as the assistant coach for the Gryphons swim team for two seasons prior to being named head coach in June 2017.

When did you realize you wanted to swim competitively?

I can’t remember not wanting to swim competitively. I started lessons at three and I remember always asking the swim school coordinator when I could move into novice, to which the response was “when you turn six years old.”

What is one of your best memories from the pool?

One of my best memories from the pool was competing at OUA Championships in my final year hosted by my school the University of Guelph. I don’t think anything has ever compared to the energy, the atmosphere, the number of people on deck and the amount of cow bells!

Did you play other sports? If so, when and how did you decide to focus on swimming?

I played basketball from about the age of five until I was in Grade 10. (I ran track and participated in cross country as well throughout elementary school but never took it seriously). I ended up quitting basketball because I had chronic tendonitis in both my knees and couldn’t handle the impact on my joints needed to play. The decision was made for me, but that being said, I wouldn’t have pursued basketball beyond high school. Once in university I was introduced to the sport of competitive lifesaving which thanks to my swimming background, allowed me to represent Canada at four World Championships. I even continued in lifesaving sport once I retired from swimming competitively.

Have you faced any frustration or barriers to pursuing the sport?

My biggest frustration was the cost of pursuing swimming at an elite level. Being a student athlete is hard enough as is, especially in a sport where you are training over 20 hours a week. Swimming is an expensive sport, even with a part-time job, the support of coaches, and programs like Quest for Gold, it was a major challenge living paycheque to paycheque.

What was the transition like going from an athlete to becoming a coach?

I was lucky in that the transition for me was very gradual. I went from having my team’s respect as a captain for two years, to a volunteer with the team at meets, giving small pieces of feedback as an assistant coach to the head coach. The biggest challenge was having my team and other coaches see me as a coach and not just Chantique, the athlete, and discovering what my personal coaching style was.

What has your experience been like as a black swimmer/coach?

I’ve been fortunate to of had a largely positive experience as a black swimmer and coach. But It’s not always easy to be the black face among hundreds of white ones. My confidence has grown as I’ve grown, and I feel confident stepping onto just about any pool deck, but when you are younger, it’s hard to understand why everyone knows your name before you’ve met them. It was hard when swim caps couldn’t fit over my braided hair or they only lasted a couple weeks, or goggles didn’t come with a nose piece wide enough to fit my face. None of that changed how much I enjoyed being in the water.

Do you have a role model you look up to and, if so, what can you tell us about them?

I’ve had many role models, but likely the most consistent throughout my life has been my father (Vernon Payne). My father is now a retired elementary school principal and I was always in awe of how well respected and loved he was. People seemed to be drawn to him as the person who could solve problems, mend fences and build something even stronger. He commanded respect through kindness, never having to raise his voice (which is truly a talent when dealing with 5-13 year olds). Because of him, I thought I would be a teacher for sure, and honestly, combining my love of teaching with my love of sport and becoming a coach might be even better.

Do you have a motto or favourite quote?

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit” – Will Durant. I discovered this quote in high school (originally thinking it was Aristotle) and it quite literally changed the way I approached life, learning and training.

What does being a black swim coach or black athlete in this sport mean to you?

To me, being in this sport as a black woman, I hope to be the representation that I did not see as a child.

What are your hobbies/interests outside the pool?

Outside of the pool, music is my biggest interest, from playing the piano (not especially well) to singing with my family, singing in choirs or going to see the biggest musicals in Toronto. I love it all, it’s definitely my happy place.

What do you love about swimming?

Personally I truly love the feeling of being in the water. As a sport, it’s taught me so much about myself and I love how it never stops challenging you. It’s a sport that you can do for your entire life.

What do you want to see in the future for the sport?

My hope is that the sport of swimming becomes a sport that any child can feel they belong and any child can pursue. I hope that black faces on the pool deck are no longer “the only” but one of many, and that as a community we can create an action plan to address the lack of diversity within our sport.