It was a week of firsts for Columbia Shuswap Selkirks swimmer Chantel Jeffrey: Her first trip out of Canada, her first international swim meet and her first ever medals in international competition.
Jeffrey competed in the Union Americana De Natacion (UANA) Open Water Swimming championships held in the Cayman Islands from June 9 to 12.
Not only did Jeffrey compete, she found the podium in all three events she swam in, winning gold in the 2.5 km race, silver in the one mile, and bronze in the 5 km.
“It is very exciting to win a gold medal at my very first international meet. I think that representing Salmon Arm and Canada is very cool and I am very honoured to be representing our beautiful country,” she said.
Selkirks head coach Barry Healey says Jeffrey is the first female swimmer from Salmon Arm or the surrounding area to win a medal in international competition.
Jeffrey attended a Swimming Canada training camp in Florida before the competition to prepare her for swimming in the Caribbean sea.
“The tips at the camp that they gave me were strategic and extremely helpful towards today’s event. I used everything they had taught me here to compete today,” Jeffrey told the Observer by email with one day of racing in the Cayman Islands still ahead of her.
Swimming in the tropics, where the water temperature was 28 degrees Celsius, was a big adjustment because she had only ever competed in open water events in Canadian lakes.
“The air is very humid and hot, making it harder to breathe efficiently in a race I find. The warmer temperatures however do not hinder me whatsoever I have found, which is great. I have never even been in the ocean before so racing in it has been a very new experience for me,” Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey described her first international meet as a very positive experience.
“The event was vibrating with positivity and happiness all around. I even heard there were some internationally known Olympians there such as Alison Schmidt and Ian Crocker.”
A particularly exciting part of the competition for Jeffrey was the open one mile swim, called the Flowers Sea Swim, which had over 1,000 participants.
“It was extremely crowded at the start, but they made a special exemption for the international swimmers to go in the very, very front so that we could get out front and swim as fast as we needed to,” she said.
At the end of the mile, Jeffrey was second in the 15-19 age group and sixth of all women in the event.
Despite the great distances of the events, some came down to the wire for Jeffrey. To earn her first place finish in the 2.5 km race, Jeffrey outpaced Peruvian swimmer Fanny Sanchez by only 0.2 seconds. In the 5 km she was just five seconds behind the first- and second- place swimmers.
“So that would be about five meters after 5 km. I am sure she gave it all and its been a great couple of weeks for her,” Healey said.
While her time in the balmy Cayman Islands is at an end, Jeffrey will have an opportunity to compete in more familiar waters on July 10 as the Selkirks host the Open Water provincial championship at Canoe Beach.