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Community support propels Squamish swimmer to success at Canadian nationals

'I want to thank everyone in Squamish for believing in me' says swimmer.

Katie Coombs placed third in the 200-metre race at this year's Masters Swimming Association of British Columbia Canada Nationals, held in Windsor, Ontario.

Masters swim is a competitive swim and training program for those older than 25. She also garnered a personal best in all 12 of her swims.

While this is not Coombs's first trip to nationals, this one taught Coombs how to honour, accept and work with her newly disabled body. 

Keep swimming

In 2019, Coombs experienced a life-altering traumatic event in which she developed subsequent physical complications. In 2020, she was in a car accident and sustained what would become post-concussion syndrome. 

At first, she dipped her toes in the water,  finding joy in floating in Alice Lake.

"I feel free when I'm in the water. Now, I feel like I swim more mindfully. I pay attention to how the water feels. The sounds of the water and I find it just really soothing. And so it's actually really helped me heal," said Coombs. 

Essential life skill

Swimming has not been a lifelong passion for Coombs, who hails from Winnipeg.

But, her parents always saw swimming as an essential life skill so she was put into swimming lessons as a kid. After a 2012 move to Squamish, she realized that she loved swimming. In 2014, she started coaching.

"I got to work with a lot of kids, and just sharing my love and my knowledge for the sport was just, it was amazing to be able to pass on something that I love to other people," said Coombs, who has since stopped coaching but says that people still call her and ask for help simply because they know she loves the sport. 

Coast Swim Team

These days, Coombs is a member of the Coast Swim team—a club that only meets in Vancouver. So, she gets sent a workout plan, and heads to her local pool, to put in the work while making sure she physically felt well. 

"Some days, I was able to go to the pool and swim like 1,500 meters, and some days, all they can handle is 500."

Coombs said it took acupuncture, physical therapy, and other medical professionals to help keep her body comfortable while swimming. But it was a group of other local swimmers, turned friends, who headed to the pool with her that helped her finally get back into the pool in a meaningful way. 

While not on the same team, they train together.

"Sometimes, it's really hard to get yourself to the pool, but then once I'm there, I'm super grateful that I did get myself there. So, I try to hold on to those feelings," said Coombs. 

She took a break on the days she needed, listened to her body, and let go of the need to beat her old times. She simply wanted the chance to be in the water and compete. 

'It fuelled me'

At this year's nationals, Coombs placed in the Top 10 in all of her races, securing a bronze in the 200-metre race. But it was not the medal swim that left the biggest impact. During her first race, the 800 m, things changed for Coombs. 

Ahead of the first race, nerves were in full force—even though she had prepared, suddenly, there were officials and hundreds of spectators. 

"I dove into the water and everyone else was super fast—they just went off. And I was just like, 'there's no way [I] could keep that pace for 32 lengths." said Coombs " I just kept telling myself long and strong … and it was when I started overtaking other swimmers that were in my heat was That was when I realized that, I can do it." 

"It fuelled me." 

It was not just her internal drive that got her to touch the wall, it was her teammates' support. 

"I finished the race, and I looked at my team, and they were up in the stairs, and they were all jumping up and down and cheering, and I just looked at them and put my hands in the air because I was just so proud of myself," said Coombs.

According to Coombs, she was not even aware she had garnered a bronze medal in the 200-metre freestyle race in her age group. She did not know until hours later, when she started getting texts from people congratulating her.

Thanks, Squamish

But Coombs says none of this would have been possible without the Squamish community. A GoFundMe campaign was set up by a friend to help ensure Coombs could attend nationals. To her surprise, she raised enough to cover the entire cost of the trip.

"I was really taken back …  So, I would like to thank everyone in Squamish for believing in me and cheering me on and for supporting me."


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