Next Tuesday, early in the morning when it’s still dark outside and normal people are still asleep, the golden age of swimming will begin in my community. In addition to coaching a masters club and my club LLSC in West Kelowna, Emil Dimitrov will be coaching the Kelowna Aquajets.

A bit of history. If I wasn’t convinced prior, I knew Emil was one of those special coaches the day we first walked into the Pan Am pool at the Canadian Age Group Championships in Winnipeg back in the Summer of 2010. Emil and I were dropped off in front of the pool and he was swarmed by his former swimmers from Calgary and Milton. Every kid hugged him, then the moms, even the dads. I’m sure each person that day had their own stories and memories but I had never seen such a genuine outpouring. It’s not uncommon for athletes and coaches to have close relationships, we spend so much time together, but the scene in Winnipeg that day was something I’ll never forget.

Emil came to Canada in the early 1990s or late 1980s from Bulgaria. He stepped off a plane in Newfoundland refueling on its way to Cuba and found his way to Toronto. Last April at world/pan am trials in Scarboro we drove around the Kingston road area and he showed me where the shelter was he briefly lived in when he first arrived and the restaurants he worked at. Upper middle class Torontonians form Oakville to Markham never see these parts of town or places but by the second day Emil knew the best strip mall restaurants in Scarborough that made the best schwarma. The night I was DQd at trials we spent about an hour with Arabic speaking cooks in their kitchen learning how to prepare lamb properly. Toronto is filled with these people and Emil knows how to find them. He gets invited into their homes. He might not be the best at checking his phone messages or emails, he doesn’t have twitter or Instagram but he certainly knows how to communicate. If Emil can’t bring our two clubs together this year, then it just can’t be done.

“you don’t know stress… have shoes” Emil Dimitrov

At the 2012 London trials in Montreal, Swimming Canada honoured the 1980 Olympic team that didn’t get to go to Moscow. I couldn’t imagine putting all that work into something then having it taken away. Emil clapped louder and longer than anyone that night because he was a victim of the 1984 boycott of the Los Angeles games. He qualified in modern pentathlon but Bulgaria boycotted and knew what those athletes went through and the senselessness of it all. Emil will never get his moment like that in front of everyone of course but he managed to make peace with it and moved forward. I’ve learned that you never underestimate men like this. If he says he can run two age group clubs simultaneously, (say the next part while whispering) who kind of have a history of not liking one another, I wouldn’t put it past him. Hopefully everyone helps him out and asks what they can do to help ….especially in the beginning.

“important to ask for hotel room with window facing north. When Putin invades you need head start. Don’t stop running until you reach Argentina”. Emil Dimitrov

My club wasn’t a bad club before Emil arrived on the scene. We sent swimmers to provincials, age groups and seniors. We’re based in a town of about 40,000 people with a lane 25 metre pool. Everyone learns how to swim early in life here because there’s a 90 mile like along the edge of town and summers are long. It must have been like an earthquake when Emil arrived on the scene here. At this year’s LC provincials in Victoria we won gold the women’s 4×50 medley relay which sort of flew under the radar and went unnoticed by most. Most years prior to Emil arriving we wouldn’t have qualified 4 girls and six years later we’re on top of a podium. That’s hard to do in British Columbia! We’re not a low-rent province when it comes to swimming and clubs on the left hand side of the country produce the best swimmers in Canada. We’re a club that talks about how unusual it is to get a senior qualifying time (and it is) in our handbook but three years after Emil arrived we managed to send four swimmers to Montreal for Seniors in 2013 and we finished tied for 7th. I think there are about 400 clubs in Canada. That’s hard to do from a small town club. Hey, T7 is pretty good for big clubs. This year Emil will have four swimmers in the NCAA and three in the CIS. I imagine at this point no one knows the logistics of how things are going to work out this year, but I do know that Emil will spend about 25 – 30 hours a week teaching kids how to swim back and forth more efficiently and another 25-30 talking to parents selling the dream then managing their expectations. Whatever shape our clubs are in now, they’ll be unrecognizable two years from now. I’ve got a busy year planned ahead of me but I hope to spend more time here this year doing my little bit to help this unfold.

Getting pool time is a challenge for us at LLSC and we end up with about 13-14 hours a week. Everyone gets a head start on us because our pool is closed for the first two weeks in September for maintenance/cleaning but we always manage to figure out how to not fall behind. So many times I’d be in school and get a text… “where you?..we at pool….empty lane….you need ride?” It’d be early afternoon and I’d leave school for these impromptu workouts with David and Rohan and we’d swim hard for two hours. Then afterwards we’d jump in a car and head to the westside for our scheduled 90 minute workout and treat it as a warm down. There are a lot of good coaches who quietly go above and beyond doing things like this when need be but Emil just seems to quietly do it all the time.

Transitions are never an easy time for anyone. The first little while at my new club was tough on me and I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I did. It can be tough on new people and people at new clubs can hit hard, play dirty, then smile the next day as though nothing happened. Those types usually disappear. It took a while but I love my team now and like to think that they love me too. Hopefully the next few months won’t be too rocky around here and people won’t be too put out if things don’t go smoothly at first…..because they won’t. I can’t remember a time when the future looked brighter.

“parents think you are a gangster…..expecting they kids arrive home with neck tattoos or something after being around you” Emil Dimitrov

This merger, but it’s not a merger, living-together-first-to-see-if-we’re-compatible thing our clubs have going on now is going to end with spectacular results for everyone. I promise. Me, I wish this had happened sooner but this is going to best thing to happen to swimming in Kelowna/West Kelowna since the H20 pool was built. A pool is really just a concrete hole in the ground (above ground in our case) with water in it until a bunch of people show up and figure out how to swim back and forth fast….over and over again. Regardless If you’re meeting Emil for the first time ever this week of if you’ve known him for years, please take a brief moment and congratulate him and end by asking what you can do to help out.

September 3, 2015