The past, present and future of Canadian Para swimming will be on display at the Ken Demchuk International Invitational meet this weekend in Vancouver.
By Jim Morris
The meet, being held Friday to Sunday at the UBC Aquatic Centre on the University of British Columbia campus, will attract around 60 of the country’s best Para swimmers. The competition will be the first step in determining the size of Canada’s swim team at the Paris 2024 Paralympics.
“The competition is our first national opportunity for Canadian swimmers to earn slots for Canada to build its team to get to Paris,” said Wayne Lomas, Swimming Canada’s associate director of high performance and Para-swimming national coach.
“The journey has started.”
The meet is the largest collection of Para swimmers in Canada since Lomas joined Swimming Canada in 2018.
Among the swimmers expected to attend are Nicholas Bennett, Parksville, B.C.; Nikita Ens, Meadow Lake, Sask.; Shelby Newkirk, Saskatoon; Aly Van Wyck-Smart, Toronto; and Zach Zona, Waterford, Ont., all members of the Canadian team that competed at Tokyo. Tess Routliffe, of Caledon, Ont., a member of the 2016 Rio Paralympic team and a gold medallist at this year’s World Para Swimming Championships, will also compete.
The meet will also give some exposure and experience to the young swimmers hoping to compete at the Los Angeles 2028 Paralympics.
“Our very best athletes, I’ve got a pretty good handle on how they are tracking,” said Lomas. “It’s actually the opportunity to meet and see that group for L.A. that gets me really excited about this competition.
“This will be a great opportunity for our future swimmers to meet some of our very best.”
Ontario and Quebec have selected provincial teams to compete at the meet.
The competition was formerly known as the Can Am Para-swimming Championships but has been renamed to honour Ken Demchuk, a Canadian swim official from Regina who developed a points system that allowed swimmers from different classifications to compete in the same race.
“He played such an important foundation piece to Canada’s Para swimming program,” said Lomas.
Prior to Demchuk, Para swimmers competing in multi-class races sometimes had to wait until the next day to know their final results. His system enabled scoring, ranking and awards to be determined in a timely and equitable manner.
Having multi-class races makes it easier for Para swimmers to compete at meets.
“It provides an opportunity to easily compare performances,” said Lomas. “It got rid of an excuse for people not to have Para racing.
“It also meant that athletes with different sport classes could race and feel safe to race.”
Demchuk’s wife and children will attend the meet.
Also attending are swimmers who represented Canada at past Paralympics, including Walter Wu, Michael Edgson, Drew Christensen, Tyler Mrak and coach Cory Beatt.
“I’ve always been strong on legacy, acknowledging that we are only where we are today because of the work of those who have gone before us,” said Lomas.
To compete at the Paralympics, countries must earn qualification slots which determine the total number of swimmers that can attend the competition. These slots can be earned by performances at sanctioned meets in a period beginning from October of this year until February 2024.
Once it’s determined how many Para swimmers Canada can send to Paris, the final team will be selected at the Paralympic trials set for Montreal in May 2024.
“We have to go out and earn slots,” said Lomas. “It’s mathematical, it’s performance based.”