Kids in Sports: Pool of cash heightens competition at swim meet
April 21 2015 Posted by Tracy Bennett
When 16-year-old John Fauteux mounted the starting block and stared down the 50-metre lane of turquoise water before him, he knew it wasn’t just another race.
The start buzzer blared and he launched himself forward, propelling his six-foot-three frame across the pool with strong, determined strokes. One minute, 10 seconds and two lengths of the pool later, he was $30 richer.
Fauteux was one of about 400 swimmers aged seven to 18 competing in the eighth annual Bennett Capital Money Meet, which rewards the top three finishers in each event with nominal cash prizes. Hosted by the Region of Waterloo Swim Club, the competition was held at Wilfrid Laurier University last weekend.
Tracy Bennett, owner of Bennett Capital and past president of the region’s largest swim club, began sponsoring the event in 2006 in an attempt to generate excitement about the sport and provide extra incentive for senior-level swimmers.
“I started it knowing how hard these kids work and I decided it was a good way to reward them for how much time they put in,” says Bennett, who put two sons through the program.
What began with a handful of clubs and a $1,000 donation quickly became one of the club’s most popular long course (50-metre plus) competitions.
But a few years ago, the meet – along with the entire club – was in danger.
'In 2008, around the time of the recession and everything else, Laurier said they were going to close the pool because they didn’t have the money to fund it,” says Bennett, who was president of the club at the time. “So as the largest tenant, we had to work really hard to save the pool.”
And work hard they did.
Lobbying various levels of government and aligning themselves with other aquatic groups in the region, the club managed to raise $4 million to revamp the pool and keep it operational. While it is only six lanes wide, as opposed to the international standard of eight, it is one of the only Olympic-length pools in the province.
In hindsight, Bennett says, the renovations not only helped keep the club afloat, but also went a long way in growing the Money Meet.
“The fact that the facility is fixed up has helped with attendance, but it’s also helped improve the level of quality of the meet.”
The 2013 edition of the competition was the most successful to date. Prize money totalled about $1,900 and it was the first time kids in the 13-and-under age category competed for cash. A total of 10 clubs made the trip to Waterloo, two of them all the way from Bermuda.
Barry Hanson, head coach of the Dolphin Swim Club, says it wasn’t the first time his team traveled almost 2,000 kilometres to attend the event.
“We don’t come every year, but we’ve been here most years,” he says. “It’s a really good meet because it’s very relaxed and it’s a safe and healthy environment to bring our kids.”
Hanson says the 50-metre indoor pool at Laurier was a welcome change for his 17 swimmers, who are used to swimming outside year-round.
“It’s a nice change for them, but getting used to the chlorine is a bit of a hassle,” he says with a laugh.
Russ Franklin, head coach of the Region of Waterloo Swim Club, says his swimmers started looking forward to the opportunity to “dash for cash” months ago.
“Swimming is a very long sport,” he says. “Career-wise it’s long, training seasons are long, workouts are long.
“So after you’ve been doing it for five, six, eight years, a little something different once in a while keeps you motivated.”
Fauteux, who competed in seven events and won a total of $160, says one of his favourite things about the event was the rare opportunity to race against teammates.
“We usually don’t take home meets as seriously as away meets, but since there’s the money here we all really want to win.”
The Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School student, who plans to put his winnings toward a gaming monitor, says the competition was also a chance to work on his technique before the long course season kicks into high gear in July.
“We’ve only had a few warm-up meets for long course, so my turns aren’t the greatest,” says Fauteux, who has been swimming competitively with the club since 2004. “I’m still working on it.”
But the biggest perk of all, Fauteux admits, was the opportunity to pad his wallet.
“It’s good practice and it’s a lot of fun,” he says. “But the best part is the money.”
Ryan Bowman’s column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at email@example.com.