Vernon Kokanee Sarah Mehain (left) and Joe Byram have busy summer swimming schedules with the national team.

Vernon Kokanee Sarah Mehain (left) and Joe Byram have busy summer swimming schedules with the national team.

Kokanee back on national loop

They are only in their mid-teens, but Vernon Kokanee Swim Club members Joe Byram and Heather Mehain are already seasoned veterans.

They are only in their mid-teens, but Vernon Kokanee Swim Club members Joe Byram and Heather Mehain are already seasoned veterans.

After tasting international competition last year, the Kokanee duo are back at it with upcoming meets in North America.

Byram, who turned 17 in June, is competing  at senior summer nationals starting Thursday in Point-Claire, Que., followed by age-group nationals a week later in Montreal.

After that, it’s off to swim with Team B.C. at the Western Canada Summer Games where he is looking forward to competing in short-course events in Kamloops in August.

“It’s a nice switch-up late in the season because usually short courses are in the first part of the season. It’s supposed to be very fast,” he said.

Byram was 0.4 seconds off a national age-group record in the 100-metre backstroke at a Canadian Under 18 East vs West meet last spring. He’ll take another run at it in Kamloops.

“My focus for the summer is the short course and to hopefully get under that record. I’m getting closer,” he said.

He’s not too shabby in long course events either. He set a meet record of 59.89 seconds in the Over 16 boys 100-metre backstroke at the B.C. AAA Long Course Championships earlier this month in Victoria. He also banked bronze in the 200-m backstroke with 2:09.50.

Byram, who graduated a year early from the Vernon Secondary High Performance Program, feels his development has been steady in the last year, especially in backstroke events.

“We had a really good training year. Marc (Tremblay, outgoing Kokanee head coach) and I really made some progress. Technically, we found a pretty efficient and effective backstroke that’ll carry me through Olympic trials (for 2012 London Summer Games) next April.

“This year is more of a training year, next year is the racing year,” added the lanky six-footer.

“My goal isn’t exactly to make the Games, but I’d like to be on the podium (at trials). It would be great to go (to London), but I wouldn’t expect anything from myself at the Games. It’s more of a setup for Rio (de Janeiro, Brazil, host of the 2016 Summer Olympics).”

With Tremblay leaving the Kokanee and moving to Calgary, Byram will attend the University of Alberta to train with coach Bill Humby this fall.

“I think it’ll be a very positive experience to have a varsity team to train with to further my performance,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mehain is preparing to race with Team Canada at the Pan Pacific IPC (International Paralympic Committee) Championships, Aug. 10-14, in Edmonton.

The event will host the top 2012 London Olympic contenders from Australia, Canada, Japan, U.S., and other select countries.

“I race against the same people in most of these events. I’m looking forward to racing against Breanna Nelson (of Victoria) because we have similar times,” said Mehain.

“I’m excited to be back at a big event.”

The petite 16-year-old plans to compete in six events – 400-m freestyle, 200-m IM, 100-m free, 100-m backstroke, 50-m free and 50-m butterfly.

She used to prefer backstroke, but has since taken a liking to the IM (Individual Medley).

“I’m good at all the strokes so I can sprint each one, and I have more time to think about my race.”

At  the Speedo CanAm Championships, which ended Sunday in Gatineau, Que., Mehain pocketed gold in the 50-m butterfly with 44.58. She finished second in the 50-m freestyle and 100-m backstroke, and was third in 100-m freestyle, 100-m breaststroke, 200-m IM and 400-m freestyle.

“She’s one of the IPC swimmers to watch for next year. It’s not going to be easy, but she’s certainly one of the kids that’s on the radar for Swimming Canada,” said Tremblay, adding Mehain is a candidate for a visit to London this fall to check out the Olympic swimming facilities.

“We want Sarah to experience the international level and these competitions are exactly what she needs. What’s great is she does it within the national team. It’s a better experience for her as she gets to see how the national team functions.”

Added Mehain: “It’s good working with a different coach every once in a while because each coach has a different perspective and you can learn new ideas about your stroke and technique.”

Mehain’s connection with the national team has taken her all over the world. The two places that impressed her most are Rio and Einhoven, Nederlands.

Of Rio, she said: “It’s just so different, and the culture is amazing and the people were so friendly.”

Mehain, who trains up to 14 hours a week in the pool, has had a few of those “You’re not in Kansas anymore” moments during her international excursions. She has had to learn to cope with everything from sub-standard pool conditions to issues with eating foreign food.

“You just have to be prepared for anything, and you can’t expect anything. It just really makes you appreciate being here (in the Okanagan),” grinned Mehain.