Renate Terpstra’s enthusiasm for swimming, if not all sports, is infectious.
Formerly of the Netherlands, Terpstra originally became involved in the Vernon Kokanee Swim Club when her two sons, Wouter, now 18, and Florian, 15, started the sport soon after the family moved to Vernon eight years ago.
The coaches at the time quickly realized Terpstra had a larger skill set than a typical swimming parent. With a background in competitive swimming, a degree in physical education and passion for sport, she soon earned a gig instructing the Kokanee’s grassroots program, which she did for three years.
After another three years as assistant to outgoing head coach Marc Tremblay, Terpstra is ready to take over as head instructor for the coming season.
Her inside knowledge of the club, and its members, is certain to help her moving forward.
“I know all the kids, all the families. It’s a big advantage,” said Terpstra, who operated her own outdoor sports school back in The Hague, teaching swimming, speed skating and running.
Terpstra, who eventually left competitive swimming to play professional European handball at the highest level, laughed when asked why the Dutch are such good speed skaters and swimmers.
“We have no mountains, so it’s the only two sports you can do. There are a lot of speed skating rinks everywhere and a lot of pools everywhere. And there are so many lakes and oceans, we are surrounded by water so everyone needs to swim. It’s part of the education in school, like math and science,” she said.
It was B.C.’s geography that led the Terpstras to Canada. After spending a family holiday cycling through the Kettle Valley railway, Terpstra and husband, Dirk, made the decision to move.
“We just fell in love with the country and a year later we moved,” said Terpstra,
“We love the outdoors – skiing, cross-country skiing, hiking, running. In the Netherlands, it’s so flat so we have to go to the Alps.”
Terpstra is backed by a capable coaching staff that includes Bruce Melton, who came out of retirement to help out after Tremblay’s unexpected departure to coach in Calgary.
“He’s so familiar with the club. He’s a great help for me, and he has so much experience,” said Terpstra of Melton.
Also in the mix is Sharon Irvine, a teacher in Armstrong, as well as Johanna Thayer and Amy Melvin, who will share duties in the grassroots program.
Terpstra, who is pursuing her NCCP Level 3 coaching certificate, believes solid fundamentals are where good swimming starts. Ultimately, she would like to see more Kokanee advancing to age-group nationals and western championships.
“I really want to work on technique a lot from grassroots. It’s so important to start and teach the basics. In a few years, we’ll have a whole new bunch of good swimmers,” she said.
“And it’s so important to be passionate about sports, and when you can show that to them and believe in them, the results will be great.
“There is no easy way. Some kids are very talented, of course, and they are lucky, but everybody who puts effort into it can accomplish a lot. It’s just a little step for them and believing in themselves.”
Terpstra’s appointment makes her the first female head coach in the Kokanee’s history, a distinction she carries with pride. Other female head coaches in the Okanagan include Tina Hoeben of Penticton’s KISU Swim Club and Joanne Mallar of the Summerland Orcas.
The Kokanee’s first major meet is in December, in Kamloops.