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Ocean swim earns Zakala trip to junior worlds
Josh Zakala wasn't sure what to expect from his first open water swims in the ocean.
As it turns out, the 16-year-old from Kelowna is equally proficient in salt water as he is in a lake.
On Monday, in the Cayman Islands, Zakala stroked his way to victory in the Atlantic Ocean at the 5 km distance at the Canadian junior open water trials.
The result secured the Kelowna AquaJets swimmer a trip to the World Junior Open Water Swim Championships this August in Israel.
"It's exciting," said Zakala, who completed the two-loop, 5 km race in 59 minutes 40 seconds, 2 1/2 minutes ahead of his closest rival. "It's great to get this experience in the ocean, and now to qualify for worlds is exciting, too."
Two days earlier, Zakala had a chance to get his feet wet in the ocean as he competed in the 1-mile Flowers Sea Swim.
A three-time national open water champion in his age division, Zakala placed second out of nearly 900 competitors, a positive warm-up for the trials on Monday.
"It was good that I did the mile earlier, it helped prepare me for the trials swim," Zakala said after arriving home Wednesday.
"I hadn't competed in the ocean before, all the salt made my mouth numb, and you have deal with the currents and things like that. It's very different than lake swimming, but I managed to figure it out. I'm happy with the way it went."
AquaJets' coach Peter Wilkins made the trip to Grand Cayman with Zakala and was happy, but not surprised with the outcome.
"I knew he would do well, this was probably the highlight of his career so far," said Wilkins. "It was a pretty relaxed atmosphere, he took advantage of that, swam well and got the job done.
"It's significantly different than lake swimming," Wilkins added, "a different buoyancy to the water and how your body reacts. He managed it all very well."
Zakala also excels in the pool and this spring made his first appearance at senior nationals, setting personal bests in all of his events.
Whether in the pool, lake or ocean, Wilkins says Zakala continues to mature as a swimmer and is just beginning to see the cusp of his potential.
"He's really just getting started in his development," Wilkins said. "It's going to be exciting to see what he does over the next couple of years, not just in open water but in the pool. It all looks pretty positive right now."
And what are the factors that make Zakala an elite athlete in the water ?
"He's got an enormous amount of drive, he sets goals and he's tough and determined," Wilkins said. "He's process-drive, detail-oriented and he's improving his mental state of mind…he's getting much better at handling the ups and downs."
Zakala will look to make more strides in the pool this summer when he competes at the age group nationals in Winnipeg.
Then Zakala and Wilkins, who will serve a coach with the Canadian team, will focus on the Junior Open Water World Championships, Aug. 28 to 30 in Eilat, Israel.