Instead of being in the classroom at South Delta Secondary this week, Zach McLeod will be in the Indian Ocean testing his swimming ability against the best in the world.
The 14-year-old standout with the Winskill Dolphins Swim Club is representing Canada at the FINA Junior Open Water Championships. It’s taking place in the tropical waters of Beau Vallen Bay in the Republic of Seychelles on the island of Mahe off the coast of Africa.
It’s McLeod's talent over long distances that earned him the opportunity to swim for Canada, although competing in open water was something he wasn’t even thinking about months earlier.
“I wasn’t even planning on doing open water stuff, but I was told there was a chance I could make the team as one of the top 1,500 meter freestyle swimmers in Canada. Then one morning I woke up and there was an email from Swim Canada saying I could (go to Worlds) if I wanted to,” said McLeod.
Since then, his already hectic training schedule with the Dolphins has become even more intense. There have been regular open sessions at Sasamat Lake, Bunzten Lake or Belcarra, working with accomplished open water swimmer Serge Score.
His progress was measured at this summer’s 2022 Speedo Canadian Junior and Senior Swimming Championships in Montreal that concluded with six open water national titles on the line in the Olympic Rowing Basin. He captured the boys’ 14-to-15-year-old division, completing the 1.5 km course in 18:14 seconds to edge Alberta’s Domink Kwiecien and Vancouver’s Noah Deschambault. The result came after earlier winning silver in the pool in the 800 and 1,500 freestyle events.
“He’s just a good distance swimmer. He’s got really good endurance and great fitness,” said Dolphins head coach Judy Baker. “He’s also kind of got the love to hurt himself and does not give up. That feeling, that sensation, of going through the pain to get to that next level. He's always been that way. He's picked some of the toughest events in the pool.
“I've never been a real guru of open water, but I have begun to be because that's where my athletes have been excelling. Yeah. With our training regime they seem to all be distanced and open water because all of them went back east to Montreal and got medals in the distance events, so we're having these opportunities presented to us that we have never even looked at before.”
McLeod's race on Friday in Seychelles will be 5 km and require two laps of the Beau Vallen Bay course. The water temperature at this time of year is expected to be between 25-30C.