The University of Lethbridge Pronghorns swimming team represents a group of incredibly dedicated students, men and women who are studying across all faculties while finessing their strokes and speed. Although they already maintain an extremely full schedule – training more than 23 hours a week between classes and homework – the team is built on a belief that excellence in sport extends past the winners’ podium and they continually work to develop a culture that fosters community service.
However, as Owen Guyn, a fifth-year neuroscience student and captain of the men’s team explains, it wasn’t always this way. It all started two years ago when a member of the swim team was at a public pool and saw a group of children from Lethbridge Family Services (LFS) at the facility. She couldn’t help but notice the number of kids sitting on the side when they should have been splashing in the water. After inquiring further, she realized that these children, many of whom were recent refugees, didn’t know how to swim. She brought the story back to Guyn and the swim team who immediately agreed to help. Working together with Lethbridge Family Services, the team started a program to offer free swimming lessons to families in need. Now in its second year, more than 30 children have received instruction from volunteer Pronghorn swim team instructors through eight-week sessions held at the U of L.
“It’s pretty cool to see these kids learn to swim. Usually within two lessons, they’ll start kicking and their eyes will go wide when they realize they can actually do this. Almost immediately, they’ll want to go to the deep end of the pool and jump off the diving board,” recounts Owen. “When we have our last session, many of the parents come down and personally thank us. It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life.”
Building on the momentum the team experienced with LFS, they started to look for other opportunities to be involved in the city.
“We simply sat down and said, 'What else can we do?'”
With that mindset, the team has helped facilitate the CIBC Run for the Cure for two consecutive years and hopes to make it an annual tradition. They’ve also been involved with several shoreline clean-ups through the Helen Schuler Nature Centre, picking up more than 754 items of garbage in one day alone.
“It’s good for our city to see students giving back to the community and to see that students are proud of their University; the city can in turn be proud of its students.”
While the motivation was always to give to others, Guyn explains that the team has been the unexpected benefactors.
“It’s been huge for team bonding and chemistry and has brought us closer together in a positive way. Even cleaning up the garbage in the river bottom was fun because we made it a good time,” he explains.
“As we see it, as athletes we’ve been given a lot and we want to get out there and give back, to use what we’ve learned and what we do to help other people.”