Through the Swim Ontario Youth ID Program, 15-year-olds Matthew Kuusk and Aidan Spiers are among 100 boys and 100 girls in their age category selected as potential candidates to represent the province in the Canada Summer Games 2022.
Kuusk and Spiers were identified by a group of coaches who recognized their potential from last year’s competition results and training times submitted by their Muskoka Aquatic Club (MUSAC) head coach Morgan Kierstead.
The Canada Games, held every two years since their inception in 1967, alternate between winter and summer. The games represent the highest level of national competition for Canada’s top young developing athletes, celebrating the next generation of national, international, and Olympic champions from across the nation. It is Canada’s largest multi-sport event, with more than 5,000 athletes and coaches, and features a total of 18 summer sports.
Both swimmers were understandably excited about the opportunity.
“I was over the moon. This news was a big welcome surprise, and really makes me excited for the future,” Kuusk says. “This program shows the amazing potential and opportunity that we have in the sport.”
Spiers was equally enthusiastic. “I was super surprised because Matt and I had no Idea this was going on in the background,” he says. “Being named for this program was awesome to me because it is a way of showing that the hard work Matt and I have put into the pool over the last year is paying off. It immediately gave me the urge to continue training hard and pushing myself, even though we aren’t back in the pool quite yet.”
According to Kuusk and Spiers, the program currently involves mostly online meetings and coaching for the remainder of the season.
Eventually, the identified swimmers will be narrowed down to 20 in each gender category to represent Team Ontario at the games.
“We will be doing monthly meetings about training, nutrition, and goals. We would normally also be doing training camps in the pool in Toronto with all the other participants, but because of COVID it is only online,” Kuusk says. “I am excited. I can see this opportunity opens many doors for me.”
Aidan Spiers (above left, centre) in March 2020 in Markham, receiving the gold medal in his event, and Matthew Kuusk (above right, at left) in March 2020 in Markham, receiving the silver medal and beating the 100m Breast MUSAC Club record. Both are excited at the opportunity to advance their skill through the Swim Ontario Youth ID Program. (supplied)
Although the Canada Summer Games was scheduled for August 2021 in the Niagara Region, it has been postponed until August 2022 due to continued public health concerns with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also created issues related to athletes adequately preparing for a 2021 date as a result of a multitude of training restrictions and facility closures. It’s been a tough time for young athletes across the country, as their training and competitions have been disrupted by the pandemic.
“In the fall, I had been struggling with continuing with swimming with no competitions this year, no way of knowing if I was improving, and no specific goals to work towards. I had been feeling like my swimming ability had significantly decreased, and I was losing drive,” says Kuusk. “[But] before the lockdown, we were able to do some timed swims during practice, which told me I had actually improved—which was really helpful.”
Like athletes everywhere in Ontario, local swimmers have not been allowed in the pool since the province-wide lockdown in December. Despite this, Spiers and Kuusk have found other ways to keep their fitness up through cross training over the past year.
“Back when the lockdown started in March, Aidan and I were running and doing workouts until we were able to swim in the lake,” Kuusk says. “Working in construction [in the summer]helped me keep in shape getting ready for the fall. We were happy to get back in the pool for the first bit of the season.”
Spiers was doing similar activities. “In the summer [I was] doing open water swims to just maintain technique. When we were able to come back to the pool in September, I had the urge to work harder because, after six months off, I really missed the schedule of being in the pool almost every day and training to get better.”
“Since the [second]lockdown started again, Aidan and I have been doing workouts on our own and cross-country skiing several times a week to keep our cardio up,” Kuusk adds.
Having been selected by Swim Ontario as potential athletes to represent Ontario at the Canada Summer Games has really lifted their spirits.
“This was definitely unplanned, but is a stepping stone towards bigger goals in the future,” Spiers says. “It was an unexpected surprise, which was a huge boost in motivation to keep going so that I can continue to improve and move forward in the sport.”
Kuusk agrees with his teammate. “The program provides more information and training on being an elite athlete. It has given me the opportunity to be able to go way farther forward in swimming than I thought was possible for me. I am grateful. My goal now is to be part of this team that goes to the Canada Games 2022.”
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