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Thompson taking leave of absence following Commonwealth Games

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High Performance Centre – Quebec Head Coach Mike Thompson will be taking a leave of absence in the fall with the full support of Swimming Canada.

Thompson will continue in his role coaching some of Canada’s top Para swimmers through this summer’s World Para Swimming Championships and Commonwealth Games. Following the Games, he will continue to be employed by Swimming Canada, while on family medical leave.

Assistant Coach Jean-Michel Lavallière will assume the role of Acting Head Coach during this period.

The move will allow Thompson to spend more time with children Rachel, 14, and Mikey, 12, who live in London, Ont. The global COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly challenging for Thompson, who relocated to Montreal from Ontario when Swimming Canada hired him in 2015. Before the pandemic, he or his children would make regular trips back and forth, but this was complicated by additional isolation requirements around interprovincial travel the past two years.

“They live 800 kilometres away, and if I left the province I had to isolate five days before I came back to work. As a coach, I can’t take realistically take five days off very often,” Thompson said. “I’m going for my kids. I’m doing it because I need to be a dad first right now. That’s got to be a priority. They’re going through some tough times right now.”

While he was away at an event in Aberdeen, Scotland, in February, things came to a head and Thompson felt he needed a plan to be closer to his family next school year.

“In that moment, I said ‘I will be there next year.’ I didn’t know how I was going to make it work. I thought I was going to have to quit. I didn’t think it was an option to go on leave,” Thompson said.

The coach approached Associate High Performance Director and Para Swimming National Coach Wayne Lomas after the Aberdeen meet. Lomas was understanding of Thompson’s situation, and worked to find a solution that would allow him to remain with the organization while attending to his family’s needs.

“His family require his care, attention and presence in London,” Lomas said. “He and I discussed a number of options, and both agree that being able to take a leave of absence is the most important way that we can demonstrate meaningful support for Mike as a member of our organization.”

Coaching can often be thought of as an “old school” profession, so Thompson appreciated the support.

“My main fear was if went on health leave or stress leave or family leave to be with my kids, that would be the end of my performance career. I think there still is a stigma to that and I worried about it,” Thompson said. “Wayne completely understood. A few days later he came back and said, ‘I’ve got an idea.’ It feels really good I can be seen as a human being, not just a commodity. Sometimes you think your personal life doesn’t matter, it’s just get to results. It’s nice to know the organization is behind me and sees me as a valuable person first as opposed to just a valuable coach.”

The leave will begin Sept. 1 and is expected to last 10 to 12 months, allowing Thompson to return in time to ramp up to the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

“He will return when the situation he is managing allows it – and he does this with the full support and backing of Swimming Canada,” Lomas said. “This will help Mike continue to play an important role in our program for many years to come.”

Both Thompson and Lomas had high praise for Lavallière, who joined the program last year. The Rio 2016 Paralympian brings a strong sport science and coaching background to the role.

“He’s an excellent tactician and technician. He’s made my job a ton easier and made athletes better going into (Canadian Swimming Trials earlier this month). Beyond the fact he’s a great coach, he’s a good friend. I’ve known him a long time and we have a deep trust level with each other. I wouldn’t be able to do this without knowing we have someone as strong as J-M to back me up.”

“I am pleased that we have J-M ready to step in and lead the program,” Lomas added. “We have so much faith and trust in our entire coaching and integrated support team staff. We value people and teamwork, and I’m glad we were able to find a solution that allows Mike to deal with and manage a difficult family situation, while maintaining strong support for the swimmers.”