On deck: A teenage para swimmer’s quest for competition

Lucas Van Herk is getting ready for his first full-para swim meet this December, seven years after he dove into the sport.

By Grace Giesbrecht | December 5, 2022 |5:00 am

Lucas Van Herk’s swimming career started soon after he lost the use of his legs. Now, seven years later, Lucas is hunting for more chances to improve and compete against other para swimmers. The first of these opportunities is coming up this December.

The 14-year-old was named Swim BC’s Male Para Swimmer of the Year this autumn. His performance in the 200-metre individual medley—an event that requires all four strokes (freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke, and backstroke) in one race—clinched the award for him.

But winning the Swim BC award wasn’t a major goal for Lucas.

“It felt really nice,” he said, but it wasn’t expected. Instead, Lucas is focused on improving his skills and becoming more competitive.

Continues below

Not everything The Current publishes is on this website. Get all our stories delivered to your email inbox every weekday morning and join more than 30,000 other subscribers who get the latest stories, news, and events from Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, Mission and the rest of the valley. See a recent newsletter here.

Get FV Current in your inbox.

Plug in to the news that matters in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, and the rest of the Fraser Valley.

By filling out the form above, you consent to receive emails from Fraser Valley Current. You can unsubscribe at any time. View our privacy policy here.

Having trouble with the form? Contact us at contact@fvcurrent.com.

From the hospital pool to here

Lucas hadn’t been a big swimmer before an accident left him partially paralyzed in the fall of 2015. It took a lot of practice for him to become the swimmer he is today.

“There’s a lot of work [to learn it]” he said.

His mother, Elan, pushed for her son to learn to swim. She knew Lucas would be as adventurous as ever—these days, he plays wheelchair basketball, sit-skis, and plays a little tennis, too. But his penchant for adventure worried her.

“All I can think is ‘when he’s 16 his stupid friends are going to throw him in Cultus Lake and he’s going to drown after all this hard work. And I’m just like—he needs to swim!’”

That work started in the pool at the Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children. It continued when Elan began looking for the next move after her son’s months of rehabilitation. That’s when she remembered reading that the Chilliwack Spartans had para athletes on their team.

The team had no other paralyzed or partially paralyzed athletes. With the help of coaches and occasional input from pro para swimmers, Lucas started swimming—and then, racing—five years ago.

But, as Lucas climbed the ranks and improved, the hope for safety around water morphed into a sport he loves. It also put him on a team that loved having him, Elan said.

“I didn’t think it would go this far, but it’s pretty awesome to watch,” she said. “We, his family, are all very proud of him.”

Chasing competition

Finding places to compete alongside other para swimmers is Lucas’s next challenge. He knows that will happen as he grows and improves.

“[These competitions] will eventually come when I get older and go up in the rankings and stuff like that,” he said. Lucas is excited for those meets to begin.

Times are compared by classification, and Lucas has yet to swim in a heat with others with lower-body paralysis. (A BC Summer games para competition contained classifications of swimmers with various disabilities.)

The Spartans compete both in local meets and farther-flung competitions like this year’s BC Summer Games. The BC School Sports Provincial Championships were a big competition for the team recently but qualifying for them, Lucas said, wasn’t much of a challenge.

Though qualifying for the championships requires posting a competitive time, the meets do not have a lot of para swimmers for Lucas to swim against. Without a lot of competition, he wasn’t particularly worried about qualifying.

“The times weren’t that fast,” he said. “They don’t have many para people, too. So it wasn’t really that hard.”

Para swimming meets will often be farther away than the able-bodied meets Lucas attends with the Spartans. But he is excited for more travel.

Travelling with a team of teenagers can be a lot of things: it can smell like feet, chlorine and cheezies; it can involve long hours in a bus on a highway. The Spartan’s journey to last July’s BC Summer Games in Prince George was one of those long treks.

The trips are an adventure, undertaken with friends. Traveling with the Spartans, Lucas said, is one of the times he feels most like part of the team. Though going to para swim meets in the future may not involve the entire Spartans team, he still looks forward to the adventure.

This December, Lucas will compete in his first full para swim meet—the Ken Demchuk International Invitational (Dec. 16 to 18) in Vancouver. Elan is excited to see him compete among so many other para athletes. But she also thinks it will be a bit of an eye-opening experience for her son.

“I think he will have his butt handed to him. But it will be amazing to see and be with so many para-athletes,” she said in an email. “I think they are incredible, strong, dedicated athletes plus a little bit crazy.”

Join more than 30,000 other Fraser Valley residents by subscribing to our newsletter. Every weekday morning you’ll get a new feature story and other stories, news, and events from Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, Mission and the rest of the valley. See a recent newsletter here.

We’re bringing independent, local-first, in-depth reporting to serve you and our community.

Subscribe for free and plug in to the news that matters in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, and the rest of the Fraser Valley.

By filling out the form above, you consent to receive emails from Fraser Valley Current. You can unsubscribe at any time. View our privacy policy here.

Having trouble with the form? Contact us at contact@fvcurrent.com.

Grace Giesbrecht

Grace Giesbrecht is a reporter with the Fraser Valley Current

Tags in this Article

Latest Articles

The key news happening in the Fraser Valley.

News

February 5, 2023

The magic of a senior’s homemade talk show

One senior’s cure for her social anxiety? A homemade TV talk show that has confirmed that ‘we’re all basically the same.’

History

February 3, 2023

Two old buildings battle for $50,000

Ten heritage sites across Canada are competing for a cash prize, including two from the Fraser Valley. The winner will be decided by the voting public.