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National Volunteer Week: Swimming Canada celebrates officials

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By: Rebecca Cheverton

National Volunteer Week, Apr. 18-24, is a time to celebrate, thank and recognize the important work that volunteers across Canada do for their communities. The volunteers and officials in the swimming community play a huge role in our clubs, competitions and countless other areas in the sport. In honour of this week, Swimming Canada would like to celebrate and highlight two of our amazing officials who have dedicated so much of their time to swimming over the years.

This summer Canadian swim official Louise Leblanc will be heading to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and Sheila Guenther to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games to officiate.

Guenther, who started officiating in 1994, is no stranger to international competition. She has officiated all around the world for Para swimming events.

“I started officiating in 1994 when one of my children joined the local summer club,” said Guenther. “Swimming always needs officials at all levels and I’m not the kind of person to sit on the sidelines. I like to keep busy and help out when and where I can.”

After years of officiating, Guenther was introduced to Para swimming in 2006 in London, Ont. That’s where she met Lockie Lister, a long time Canadian Para swimming official, who mentored her through the years. Through this experience she later started getting selected for international events.

“I was fortunate to be selected as the Assistant Technical Delegate for Swimming at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, and as Technical Delegate for the World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City in 2017,” said Guenther.

Guenther’s officiating on the pool deck has been put on hold the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled and postponed many competitions both nationally and globally, but she has used this time to help educate others.

“I’m missing out on the on-deck experience but hope to be back soon,” said Guenther. “I’ve had the chance to help lead some clinics over Zoom and work on Para officiating education projects.”

Being an educator for Para swimming is something Guenther has enjoyed most about her experience over the years. She’s also enjoyed meeting and working with other officials in the sport.

Guenther has been appointed by World Para Swimming to be a Technical Official at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, that have been postponed to this summer.

“What I’m most looking forward to in Tokyo is being poolside and seeing the amazing swimming that will be on display,” said Guenther.

Louise Leblanc is also well acquainted with the swimming officiating world and has been officiating since 1991 when she first signed up to help out a local swim meet.

“I was swimming with a masters club and the local club was hosting the provincial masters championship and they asked if anyone was willing to help out. So I signed up and took the Level 1 clinic,” said Leblanc. “They called me back for other meets and I kept saying yes. They asked if I would be interested in taking clinics so I did. I got to Level 2 and then wondered what it took to get to my Level 3, then 4 then 5…”

What really sparked Leblanc’s interest and got her hooked was the 2000 Canadian Olympic Trials in Montreal.

“I signed up and learned so much. Also met some great people who were passionate about the sport and willing to share their experience and knowledge. I just wanted to learn more,” said Leblanc.

Leblanc has many years of international experience but said the London 2012 Olympic Games is favourite memory so far.

“Walking out on deck and realizing what I was about to witness, the ultimate competition for any official,” said Leblanc.

Although COVID-19 has put a halt in officiating for Leblanc as well, she has been trying to keep up with what’s been happening from a distance. She’ll soon be back on pool deck as one of four referees at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“The ultimate position at the ultimate competition, I am so privileged,” said Leblanc.

Although the Games will have strict COVID restrictions and guidelines, Leblanc is looking forward to being back with officials from around the world and again witnessing the best swimmers in the world compete.

Leblanc has dedicated many years to the sport and her experience includes being part of Swimming Canada’s Officials, Competitions and Rules Committee (OCRC), and a member of FINA’s Technical Swimming Committee.

“I’ve enjoyed learning and passing along what I’ve learned, but what I’ve enjoyed most is the people I’ve met along the way who become great friends,” said Leblanc.