Former Vernon Kokanee Swim Club member Savannah King, a two-time Olympian and four-time Canadian university swim team champion, is an assistant coach with Montreal’s McGill Redbirds. She has been accepted into an apprentice coaching program with Canadian U-Sports. (Photo submitted)

Former Vernon swimmer earns apprentice nod

Savannah King named one of 18 former athletes to U-Sports Female Apprentice Coach program

  • Apr. 16, 2021 12:00 a.m.

She readily admits a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call to train and swim laps as an athlete was never fun.

But let former Vernon Kokanee Swim Club member Savannah King stay dry and have a coffee on the swim deck and suddenly getting up before the roosters to coach isn’t such a bad thing.

King, 28, a two-time Olympian, is continuing to make the transition from competition to coaching. An assistant coach with the McGill Redbirds in Montreal, King is one of 18 former student-athletes chosen for the U Sports Female Apprentice Coach Program, with the objective being to increase the number of females in coaching positions across Canadian universities.

It’s available to athletes who have retired in the past 10 years. King last swam competitively for the UBC Thunderbirds in 2015, helping the club win a fourth consecutive Canadian U-Sport national championship.

“I’ve been coaching in some capacity for many years,” said King from Montreal, out for a walk on a brisk spring day with her dog. “I started doing the Tom Johnson swim camps in Vancouver when I was 15 or 16. I did summer camps, continued doing that with masters coaching, and then summer club when I retired. I love.

“I love coaching the different age groups. I’ve pretty much done every age group. I think, so far, varsity (university) is my favourite age group. I like the connection with the athletes and I think it’s that connection I vibe with. I was one of them recently. I understand them and use that to do my advantage in coaching.”

King, named the Tim Hortons North Okanagan Athlete of the Year in 2015, said the number of women coaches in her sport has become much better in the last five-to-1o years. Where once there was a large discrepancy, programs like the U-Sport Apprentice and Swimming Canada’s High Performance Coach’s Group have helped shrink the gap.

“Everybody is doing their best to give opportunities to female coaches,” said King, a distance freestyle specialist who swam some backstroke “when she felt good about it,” and competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and four years later in London.

She left Vernon and the Kokanee club, following then-head coach Claude-Yves (Cyb) Bertrand to Vancouver, where he was an assistant coach at UBC. King made the national team at 15 and competed in China as a 16-year-old.

After swimming for Bertrand and head coach Johnson at UBC, King moved to Montreal and joined Peter Carpenter’s McGill staff. Both men played a role in King’s development as a swimmer, coach and person.

“Tom had a hard job some days as I was not an easy teen to deal with,” laughed King. “I was strong-willed, opinionated and stuck to my guns a lot of the time. He worked with me all through that period. Peter is my mentor in several capacities. He puts a lot of trust in me, respect my opinion and the differences in expertise I bring to the table, it’s been very, very easy to get in and work with him through this whole (COVID) period.”

King said she has always wanted to work in sports. She earned a degree in kinesiology at UBC and moved to Montreal to earn a masters degree in biomechanics, something, she said, that was an interest to her in her swimming career working with the university’s biomechanists and getting down to the nitty-gritty of stroke mechanics.

“I always pictured myself in some role like that,” said King. “Whether that’s being a specialist or coaching, they both encompass that. I like the aspect of working with the athletes and seeing them through their time in varsity.

“For a lot of these athletes, you’re the last person that will ever coach them. You’re the one that’s going to leave an impression on the sport. It’s a lot of pressure, and I hope I’m leaving a good impression on them.”

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