Tianni Arsenault loves to give back.
At 14, she is grateful for the opportunity she was given in life to thrive by her adoptive parents, Rheal and Nikki Arsenault, who put her into all kinds of activities to allow her to find that one place she felt the most comfortable.
That place was the swimming pool. And after she discovered swimming, and found she was actually pretty darned good at it – she has swam competitively with Island Swimming for the past few years – it wasn’t long before she was keen to get her schoolmates at Spencer middle school involved in the sport.
What started with four recreational swimmers became seven last year and jumped to 13 members this year.
“Putting it on the announcements every day really helped,” says Tianni, who put up posters the first couple years to bring attention to the opportunity for students. With the Grade 9 student serving as a kind of “in-water coach” and supporter, the club is thriving.
Spencer teacher-sponsor Donna Sagodi says while the swim club was not necessarily designed to be competitive, most of the swimmers chose to enter races and test their skills, aiming to improve their times.
“We tell people that everyone can compete, no matter what level you’re at,” she says. “Some people even used the swim club to do cross training.”
The goal, she says, is to keep the swim club going at Spencer next year and, with the help of Rheal and Nikki, whose children have all gone to Willway elementary, work on getting clubs in place there and at Ruth King elementary, the other feeder school for Spencer.
Spencer swimmers competed in the recent Greater Victoria regional school meet, and some qualified for last Sunday’s championships at Commonwealth Pool. Rheal says virtually all of those who competed Sunday achieved personal best times in certain events, making it a “very successful meet for the Spencer swim team.”
Tianni says the swimmers were excited about competing against people from elsewhere in the region.
“They were saying, ‘I can’t wait for Wednesday,’ even though they were a bit nervous,” she says. “They’ve all worked really hard this year.”
Lara Kardash, who works for West Shore Parks and Recreation at the Juan de Fuca pool, where the Spencer team trains, coaches the school team in her role with Island Swimming. She agrees with Tianni that the middle schoolers have made great strides this season.
“I’ve seen huge, huge improvement in the group since the beginning of the year,” Kardash says.
In a sport that often attracts people who like more individual pursuits than team efforts, the coach likes the chances of the team continuing to expand, despite the fact that six members are moving up to high school next fall.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them came back,” she says. “They’re doing great and they love it. They’re totally gung ho and they work hard. I’m really proud of the team, the fitness level increased for the whole team.”
As for Tianni, a breaststroke specialist who swims five times a week with the Island Swimming group – sometimes twice a day – her goal is to continue improving her own personal best times and secure a swimming scholarship, either at the University of Victoria or UBC.
“I definitely want a job or a career in the water sports area,” she says. She already volunteers at the Juan de Fuca pool helping little ones with swimming lessons. “I’d want to be close to the water somehow. I just feel really comfortable there.”
In the near term, she plans to work on getting a swim club started at Belmont secondary, which does not have one at this point. Given her determination and her energy level, there’s no reason to believe she won’t succeed there, too.