Pilla swims against world’s best

A swimmer from the Greater Trail Winter Swim Club (GTWSC) is ready and set to make waves on the international swim scene.

A swimmer from the Greater Trail Winter Swim Club (GTWSC) is ready and set to make waves on the international swim scene.

GTWSC swimmer James Pilla qualified in Victoria last month to swim against the world’s best at the Paul Bergen Jr. International SCM Championships in Portland, Oregon this weekend.

“It’s huge, it’s winter club, this meet is big time,” said GTWSC coach Cody Flegel. “It’s all the best kids from the world under 18 . . . there has never been anyone in the area to do an accomplishment like this.”

Pilla has enjoyed great success regionally and provincially swimming with the Castlegar Aquanauts and Trail Stingrays summer swim clubs, but he has yet to match his stroke against the worlds’ elite swimmers, until now.

“The week after I met him (coach Cody Flegel), we planned out where I needed to be, how we were going to get there, and since then we’ve been focused on that goal,” said Pilla.

The two began working towards that goal in June, with an intense three-a-day workout routine, six days per week, a change in diet, fundamentals, and focus.

“I looked at his stroke and said, ‘You’re good but to get better you’re going to have to change your stroke,’” said Flegel.

As a result, the 18-year-old knocked almost two seconds off his 50-metre free time which is like night and day in the sprinting world.

“I had a summer-swimming stroke, no doubt about it,” said Pilla. “The biggest transition for me was the amount of technical knowledge required to perfect what I’ve been doing. I’ve dropped times, I didn’t think possible just strictly on arm position.”

Pilla also trained hard in Victoria at sea level for three months to prepare. In order to qualify for the Bergen Meet, he first needed to achieve the standard qualifying times at the Island Pacific Cup swim meet in Victoria. Despite making the finals in his first four races,  Pilla, swimming with a ripped suit, narrowly missed meeting the standard times. It wasn’t until his final race, the 50 metre backstroke, that he was able to eclipse the 27.7 second qualifying mark by two-tenths of a second, the fastest swim of the meet.

“Coming into the last race, knowing I only had one shot to make it – it’s everything you want in a sport. It was nerve wracking for sure but I had to achieve that goal. The team was there supporting me, the coach was supporting me, everything we’d done led up to that moment and nothing was going to stop me,” said Pilla.

To make it to the Bergen meet is a rare feat for any swimmer, especially one who has only been competing in a winter club for six months, yet his aspirations don’t stop there.

“The goal now is to make nationals,” said Flegel. “This meet is arguably one of the fastest pools in the world. People call it the magic pool.”

Pilla’s success depends on it. The Castlegar native must achieve a certain standard again to qualify for nationals. But for Pilla, nobody is more suited to helping him achieve that goal than Flegel.

The UVic alumnus,  has a long list of accomplishments that include swimming with the national team, training alongside Olympic legends Michael Phelps and Ryan Cochrane, and breaking long-standing records in the 50- and 100-m freestyle at UVic.

Flegel brings a wealth of training and coaching experience to the newly formed winter club, providing a world class program that allows swimmers to stay at home and train, while enjoying the support of parents, fellow swimmers, and the community, and the potential to take their swimming careers to the highest level.

It is already paying dividends for Pilla.

“My expectations are exactly what the coach and I have planned out. We have (swim) times that we believe are attainable, we’ve had time to prepare for these races, and we put in huge amounts of effort, so when I head down there my expectations are to go the times we discussed and once again to take it to another level.”

This weekend will be a positive challenge for Pilla, who plans on following that black line on the bottom of the pool as far as it will lead him.

“I’ve got a swimming itch that I need to scratch, and whether or not that is the Olympics or the nationals, it is going to be as far as I can physically go with it in this sport – and right now it’s looking up,” he added.

Pilla will compete in the 50-metre backstroke, 50-butterfly, 50-freestyle, and 100-m backstroke as the meet starts Friday and goes until Sunday.