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P.E.I. para swimmer heading to her 1st national-level competition

Veronica and her parents, Catherine Allin MacLellan and Mike MacLellan, say they would like to see more Island youth getting involved in para swimming.   (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)
Veronica and her parents, Catherine Allin MacLellan and Mike MacLellan, say they would like to see more Island youth getting involved in para swimming. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

Thirteen-year-old para swimmer Veronica MacLellan is about to get her first taste of national-level competition as part of the Charlottetown Bluephins Aquatic Club.

She will swim in five events at the Eastern Canadian Championships in Quebec City, March 21-23. 

"I was excited. I was kind of nervous. I still am kind of nervous, but I'm really excited," MacLellan said.

"I'm excited to get new times and do more swims and meet more para swimmers."

Para swimming uses a classification system with 14 classes of abilities: 10 for physical impairments, three related to vision and one for people with an intellectual impairment.

Veronica MacLellan's next goal after the Eastern Canadian Championships is to go to the Canada Games in the summer of 2025.
Veronica MacLellan's next goal after the Eastern Canadian Championships is to go to the Canada Games in the summer of 2025.

Veronica MacLellan's next goal after the Eastern Canadian Championships is to go to the Canada Games in the summer of 2025. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

MacLellan is classified as an S10 because she has a limited range of motion in one arm. For example, she does the butterfly stroke with one arm, rather than two.

"I did gymnastics and that was fun, but it was kind of hard because I'd always get points taken off because I couldn't really straighten my arm," MacLellan said.

"I think finding swimming was really good because it really fits all my needs, and it's really good for my arm, and it's easier for me to do than another sport like gymnastics."

MacLellan is currently the only competitive para swimmer with the Bluephins.

This is the third season with the Charlottetetown Bluephins for para swimmer Veronica MacLellan.
This is the third season with the Charlottetetown Bluephins for para swimmer Veronica MacLellan.

This is the third season with the Charlottetetown Bluephins for para swimmer Veronica MacLellan. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

She said at meets, she often finds herself competing against swimmers of other ages and classifications, and sometimes even a mix of genders.

Last fall, she attended a camp for para swimmers from across the region.

"I feel like para swimming is really difficult, and it's nice to be with people who understand how you feel," MacLellan said.

"I feel like we all understand each other more. I think there are other younger people that could be para swimmers. I think it would be great to see more people."

'Very inspiring'

Edie Rogers coaches both able-bodied and para swimmers with the Charlottetown Bluephins.

"I'm forever wanting to have more para swimmers in the club so when [MacLellan] approached us, I was ready to welcome her with open arms, and she's been a real asset to the team," Rogers said.

Rogers said at championship meets where points are awarded, para swimmers score along with the swimmers without disabilities toward the team standing.

"If you ever go to a meet where there's para swimmers, they often get the biggest round of applause," Rogers said.

"They're an inspiration for the other kids. You can just tell that people are watching them swim and being amazed at what they do. So it's very inspiring."

Para swim camp
Para swim camp

This was a para swimming development camp, Oct. 27-29 in Sussex, N.B. In attendance from P.E.I. were coach Edie Rogers, far left, swimmer Veronica MacLellan, fifth from left, and swimmer Simeon Zlatev, third from right. (Facebook/Swim P.E.I. )

Rogers said she would like to see more Island adults and youth joining the para swimming program.

"There's a lot of reasons why children and adults with an impairment don't go into sports. One is that they often don't see themselves as an athlete," Rogers said.

"They've often been through years in the medical model and so they don't see themselves as capable of taking on something like athletics and training."

Coach Edie Rogers says she would like to see more Island adults and youth joining the para swimming program.
Coach Edie Rogers says she would like to see more Island adults and youth joining the para swimming program.

Charlottetown Bluephins coach Edie Rogers says she would like to see more Island adults and youth joining the para swimming program. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"It's also, for a lot of kids, very difficult to get here. If you're in a wheelchair and it's winter and snow, it can be expensive to take Pat and the Elephant every day, or [for] your parents to bring you."

Rogers said she is looking forward to watching MacLellan at her first big meet.

"Her eyes are going to be so wide open. There's going to be more para swimmers and there's also top-level able-bodied swimmers. So it's just a whole new higher bar at a national-level meet," Rogers said.

Her eyes are going to be so wide open. There's going to be more para swimmers and there's also top level able-bodied swimmers.
—Edie Rogers, Coach 

"The next meet after this for her is going to be another one in December, which is 100 per cent para swimmers only. And that's going to be even more of an eye opener for her. It's so much fun. She's just going to love it."

Sense of community

MacLellan's parents are also pleased that she has found para swimming.

"The sense of community here is just incredible and how Veronica has really thrived in it. I I've just been really impressed with Veronica's growth these past couple of years, and how everybody just kind of accepted us," said her father, Mike MacLellan.

Hannah MacLellan and Greg Morrison P.E.I. para swimmers December 2015
Hannah MacLellan and Greg Morrison P.E.I. para swimmers December 2015

There have been other Bluephin para swimmers, including Hannah MacLellan, who competed both nationally and internationally, and Greg Morrison. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

"This level of competition requires so much dedication, and it's been really admirable seeing her step up and understand what's required of it and the determination to do it,"  said mother Catherine Allin MacLellan.

Veronica's parents would also like to see more Island youth getting involved in para swimming.

"Too often people with any type of physical impairments don't realize that there is a community that will really embrace you, and allow you to thrive," Allin MacLellan said.

"So I think it would be great for Veronica to have other peers her age,"

Five other P.E.I. swimmers also qualified for the 2024 Eastern Canadian Championships. Veronica said her next goal after this competition is to qualify for the 2025 Canada Games.