The Cochrane Water Ninjas have kicked off their competitive season with a fun mini-meet against the Calgary Poseidons, Nov. 4.
The event was a chance to warm up for the many meets ahead and to help determine what skills need to be enhanced. Participants, many of them beginners, were exposed to five different lifesaving events and had the opportunity to practice dive block starts.
"Both the Cochrane and Calgary teams did an awesome job for having only a month and a half of training," says Water Ninjas head coach Marlee Palmer. "Some people are brand new beginners this year and they had a chance to get up on the blocks and already race. It has been pretty amazing to see what they have been able to accomplish so far."
The junior lifesaving club has grown in leaps and bounds since the opening of the Jayman Aquatic Centre at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre.
The sports team was introduced in 2011 as part of the junior lifesaving program at the Big Hill Leisure Centre and originally had eight members. By 2015 it had grown to 25 members and when the Jayman pool opened last year there were 47 Water Ninjas. Now they number 68 with a waiting list.
The club offers the opportunity for youth to improve their swimming skills while learning lifesaving techniques. Palmer believes it's a different outlet for people to enjoy being in the water.
"You don't often get to go in and carry mannequins and pull tubes and stuff and I think that's a draw. As well, it has a little bit of competitiveness built inside of it.
"It's something different for the kids to try and we don't have many kids who don't continue on from season to season. They come in and they really enjoy it and stay with us."
The Water Ninjas are ages 8 to 17 and practice two to four days a week, depending upon their group. The season runs from September to the end of April and they compete in five meets. The season ends after the provincials in April.
Palmer explains there are plenty of skills needed in the sport.
"There are so many different events in lifesaving. They have to practice many different transitions and different techniques for each event."
"It's all based around the concept of rescuing and lifesaving but in the context of a sport."
Palmer is in her third year as head coach and became involved in the sport seven years ago.
Lifesaving is a recognized sport by the International Olympic Committee and the Commonwealth Games Federation and is governed in Canada by the Lifesaving Society.