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‘We’re entering the winners’ circle’: Chilliwack Stingrays swim club makes splash with new head coach

Stingrays’ VP Alex Smith believes the club can double their medal count at this year’s provincials
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Myles Wheeler (centre) is the holder of 10 active records with his old swim club, the Spartans. (Photo Courtesy\University of Calgary Athletics)

The Chilliwack Stingrays swim club is looking to secure a seat at the big table this season.

According to their new head coach Myles Wheeler, it’s an opportunity to “be at the forefront of the new age of swimming.”

The Stingrays have officially announced the hiring of Wheeler as their new leader ahead of the 2024 season. The Chilliwack native and holder of 10 records with the Chilliwack Spartans swim club, currently competes as a member of the University of Calgary Dinos swim team.

Vice president Alex Smith says the club is looking to build off a successful 2023 season that culminated in three gold medals at provincials.

“I’ll be surprised if we don’t win at least six at these provincials,” he said. “And I think at the following provincials we’ll win anywhere from 10 to 15 gold medals.”

Smith preached the importance of a young, well-balanced core within his coaching staff, maintaining the vital piece that Wheeler acts as for the club moving forward.

Wheeler was unable to compete during the 2023-2024 season, being forced to watch the Dinos from deck-side after suffering an injury. But rather than red-shirting the season, the 22-year-old was asked to unofficially join a coaching staff overseen by head coach, and Canadian swimming legend, Mike Blondal.

“For us to have a homegrown hometown kid like that come back and coach for the Chilliwack Stingrays, it’s just phenomenal,” said Smith.

“Coaching is something that has always interested me,” said Wheeler. “Last year I was an assistant for Agassiz, and now this year for Chilliwack.”

“I’ve done a ton of planning already. I’m really excited to be able to work with such a determined executive group that really values my coaching experience, and is allowing me to make the best program that I can.”

Wheeler, a self-proclaimed stickler for the “nitty-gritty” technical aspects of swimming as a sport, emphasized the importance of instilling proper technique at a younger age.

“I think those developmental steps are really critical in being able to teach kids to do things technically right the first time, rather than having to correct bad habits in the future,” he said.

Wheeler credits his injury as a large factor in his desire to coach. During a training session in early spring of 2023, Wheeler tore three ligaments in his wrist, which forced him to undergo reconstructive surgery in December of the same year.

“I really felt a disconnect. There was this thing I’d done six times a week since I was three or four-years-old, just completely taken away from me.”

“Getting to coach swimmers was a huge part of staying connected to the sport that had become such a huge part of my life.”

Wheeler got his first opportunity to coach assisting with the Agassiz swim club last season. It was the first time he was able to truly lead a team of young swimmers who are, according to Myles, “sponges” at that age, able to pick up quickly on anything.

Apart from being a “technical nerd”, Wheeler hopes to instill his work ethic into his young swimmers this season.

Wheeler admitted he was never the most physically gifted of swimmers, but maintained his ability to work hard and persevere got him to where he is today.

Following a move as a swimmer to the Spartans from Agassiz at age nine, Wheeler came to realize he was behind on his technique.

“It was a shock to just go from a program like Agassiz where it was very close knit, and lots of fun, don’t get me wrong. But the coaching expertise wasn’t there at the time.”

Wheeler made his first provincials in his debut year with the Spartans, and by the time he was 15-years-old had been a finalist at nationals multiple times. At 18, Wheeler took part in the Olympic trials and had become a regular at international competition.

“Talking to the Stingrays through contract negotiation, they really told me they would handle a lot of stuff on the bureaucratic side of things, but that it could be my program,” said Wheeler.

“That was a really enticing option for me, especially when so many of these clubs don’t give their head coaches the freedom, for better or for worse, to really make the program how they envision it.”

Smith believes the hiring is the first step in what is set to be a period of exponential growth for the club.

“The fact is that we swim in one of the oldest summer pools, the rotary pool. It was built in 1969,” said Smith.

“The deep end is so shallow it is unsafe for the kids to dive off the blocks anymore. We have to practice at swim meets.”

Smith’s ultimate goal is to bring attention to the club which, he feels, has often lived in the shadows of the Spartans.

“What I’m trying to do with raising awareness about the Chilliwack Stingrays and their success, is not so much to challenge the Spartans. I’m trying to create a viable alternative for multi-sport swimmers who still want to swim at a competitive, elite level.”

“And we’re entering the winners’ circle. And with the new coaching staff we have and the athletes that are already on this roster, the future looks brighter than ever.”

Wheeler is just one of three new additions to the Stingrays’ coaching staff for the upcoming season. Newcomers Mervin Jerodico and Niall Johnson along with Wheeler will join Colton Herron and Tatiana Hochstetter.

Registration for the Stingrays upcoming season will remain open until early May and can be found on their Facebook page: Chilliwack Stingrays Summer Swim Club

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About the Author: Stefan Luciani

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