By JACQUI LUMB
WITH the summer season upon us, people are jumping back into pools all over the district.
But for some dedicated youngsters, the pool season never really ended.
Swimming squad members have been travelling around the region, desperately trying to find pools to train in, as not to lose techniques, fitness or confidence.
This has always been the case for regional swimming athletes.
Sawtell Swim Club is a prime example of how a regional swimming club is disadvantaged when compared to a metropolitan club.
Pool manager Tim Raven along with co-swim coach Lee Eastwood explained how hard it can get for regional athletes to stay competitive against their city rivals.
Facilities have been few and far between for the winter months and many swimmers have had to forget about their training or just concentrate on their gym workouts.
The Sawtell pool is heated, however can only stay open for ten months of the year, closing over June and July, this forcing swimmers to find another place to train.
Compare this with metropolitan athletes who have world class facilities at their disposal all year round.
While we're at it, let's talk more comparisons.
Swimmers living in regional areas have limited accessability to specialized physiotherapy, sports massage and other allied health groups.
Athletes from city areas have a range of specialists to chose from, with the opportunity for more personalized check-ups, bettering their performances and education on sporting injuries.
Metropolitan athletes also don't spend the huge amounts of money on travel and accommodation that regional ones do, with big meets held in cities, saving money for the actual meet itself.
"Each event costs about $16 each, so if you're in ten events it gets very expensive," Raven said about big competitions.
Country athletes usually travel long distances for training, and even longer getting to competitions.
This alone is a huge disadvantage for the athletes.
Eastwood quoted an example of a local swimmer whose family had spent $3500 since April this year just for travel to and from training.
A ridiculous amount, however for a talented athlete, a must to stay competitive.
With money being spent like this just on training ad no government support, athletes sometimes can't afford to travel to the large events where representatives are picked for international meets, meaning they are not exposed to selectors and cannot go further with their swimming.
Another drawback is, dedicated rural swimmers spend large amounts of time alone in pools, having only themselves to push for better times.
Eastwood spoke of a young swimmer from Sydney, a competitor against some of her squad members, who trains with the Olympic Telstra Dolphins Squad with members including world champions Ian Thorpe and Jodie Henry.
When a young athlete has the opportunity to be constantly pushed by world record holders, as well as being given advice from experienced athletes, their own results will of course improve out of sight.
Sponsorship is also a major factor in the difference between urban and provincial areas.
Cities have many media centres to contact for publishing results and acknowledging sponsors, from local to national papers and television studios.
Rural athletes have the choice from the local newspaper and television centres, this not giving enough exposure for the company, seeming pointless for them to support the athlete.
Regional areas just don't compare to cities when you're trying to break into professional sports.
So why not just move to the city?
Most athletes start young and progressively improve with training.
When a child stands out from the rest, and coaches can see that their talent needs to be nourished, they will try all they can to aid the athlete.
However, as stated before, the facilities in the country just aren't good enough.
Moving to 'the big smoke' seems the only option, however it is a big decision for a family to make.
Uprooting a young student as well as brothers and sisters from their schools, parents leaving and sometimes loosing jobs, not to mention selling a house and organising accommodation in their new surroundings.
It is a huge decision.
And some locals have made the decision to leave the area in search of better facilities and sporting opportunities.
Kingscliff is home to the NSW Institute of Sport Swimming Centre and is now housing many Coffs Harbour swimmers, giving them the possibility of swimming all year round, professional and specialized massage, physiotherapy and many other benefits free of charge.
However good this sounds, athletes still have to deal with living away from home. Raven told of some of his athletes who have moved to Kingscliff to train, but haven't improved on their times because of the toll payed by leaving their family and home town.
It seems like no answer is available for the swimmers, however Raven says he knows exactly how to fix it.
"The facilities are the biggest drawback, we have the trainers here, we just need the council to support us," he said.
"We need to keep developing country areas and continue to educate coaches.
Raven also spoke of an Australian trainer who once said The Mid North Coast is 'the black hole of swimming.' Raven and Eastwood both agree with this statement and urge the local councils to do something about it so north coast swimmers can also have the same opportunities as city swimmers, giving them a level playing field, or should we say level swimming surface.