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Volunteer of the Year powered through broken ankle to make Canada Games happen

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By Rita Mingo

There are some individuals who won’t let anything get in the way of their volunteering commitments.

For example, Trevor Cowan. A broken ankle? What broken ankle?

“It was an interesting challenge for me,” began Cowan, manager of the 2022 Canada Games swimming meet. “I actually went to a 5-km obstacle course run with my family a couple of weeks before the Games and I completely shattered my right ankle. If there’s a bone in the ankle, I broke it. I was only able to be at the Games due to the tremendous support of my team who pushed me around in a wheelchair and helped me get up and down stairs and were my legs and runners in many cases as I tried to work from a stationary table.

“I was sitting in the ER thinking, ‘What have I done? This is horrible.’ But it all came together through a lot of colleagues helping me.”

For his efforts over the past year, Cowan received the Volunteer of the Year distinction from Swimming Canada.

“Very surprised and quite humbled,” he admitted. “Volunteering in swimming is always a team endeavour, there’s a big group of people. It’s labour-intensive. It’s humbling to get singled out for recognition.”

Cowan says the Canada Games commitment – held at Brock University – was the highlight of the past season, as he took on the role of Canada’s technical rep during a post-pandemic meet.

The Games “had been deferred so a lot of adjustments for the organizing committee,” he explained. “It was an interesting process to try and bring together our local volunteers as well as our visiting volunteers from across the province and territories, to try and get back to a really exciting event, back to something resembling normality.

“Everybody was super eager, but swimming takes a lot to learn the components to put on a big event. We rely so much on our momentum, parents of swimmers learning the ropes to be officials, to have certain skills. When you’re off competing for a couple of years, it’s amazing what a dent that puts in our volunteer capacity.”

With his structurally sound ankle, Cowan is back on the pool deck nearly every weekend. It is his 19th season helping out, beginning – as many do – when his two children competed. His reasoning for volunteering is two-pronged.

“I do really believe in the value of this particular sport,” he explained. “It was really good for my daughters. It has a unique blend of the individual pursuit, staring at that thin black line on the bottom of the lane, and the mental focus it takes to perform well; as well as having that team aspect in relays and team trials. It benefited my daughters tremendously in terms of their discipline, their time management and focus. It’s a really special sport.”

Cowan, based in Barrie and past president of the Barrie Trojans Swim Club, continues to do local, provincial and national events. He is the regional chair of Swim Ontario’s Huronia region, working with those 10 clubs.

“Often times now on the pool deck I’m supporting our developing referees, either doing some coaching or giving feedback or formal evaluation to help those individuals developing their referee skill sets and moving up to different levels of certification,” he said.

As well, he co-chairs the Ontario officials’ committee, providing support for 7,000 volunteers registered in the province.

A manager of technical architecture with Bell Media, Cowan is currently preparing for the Speedo Eastern Championships in March. It is, he admits, his hobby now.

“I think what keeps me in it at this point is the people,” he concluded. “We might have 40, 60, 100 people at a big national event to put on a day of swimming. So you get to know all these other volunteers and it’s really an awesome fraternity. If you’re going to spend a weekend on a pool deck, you’re hanging out with dozens of people who are also donating their time for the benefit of an amateur sport and it’s really hard to find a bad egg in that group.”