It’s a miserable Wednesday evening. The rain has subsided, for now. The sun remains largely absent and there’s a distinct chill in the air. It’s the kind of evening that keeps most teenagers at home on the couch, watching the latest offerings on Netflix or firing up their Playstation. But that’s not the case for Josh Hiraoka.
Having spent his winter out of the pool, the Golden Dolphins star, along with the rest of his teammates, is making up for lost time, getting in as many training laps as he can before the start of the summer swim season, and even more importantly, the start of his university career.
Steam rises from the pool, the water thankfully much warmer than the 13 degree air temperature outside. With his coaches comfortably wearing pants and sweaters, Hiraoka completes lap after lap of the butterfly, perhaps his best stroke.
Swimming that many laps of a gruelling stroke such as the fly can lead to a drop in form, Hiraoka says, which is why he wears a pair of black flippers during the training session.
“It’s an incredibly exhausting stroke. Your shoulders get sore really fast. If I weren’t wearing flippers my form would go downhill pretty quickly,” he said.
While power is certainly important, and Hiraoka has plenty, technique is paramount to maximizing speed in sprint races that are routinely decided by fractions of a second.
Hiraoka maximized his speed throughout 2014, taking home three provincial gold medals, one in each of the 50m fly, 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle while also adding a bronze in the 100m fly, coming agonizingly close to setting a provincial record.
“I did well last year so I obviously want to try and do that again. Duplicate that or better, of course,” he said.
Even at the tail end of a wildly successful campaign last year, Hiraoka wasn’t sure what his future in swimming would look like. Even after his dominance at provincials, he was undecided on whether he would pursue swimming at the university level. He says it was the opinions of those around him that swayed him towards continuing in the sport that he has had so much success in, and he’ll be featured on the University of Lethbridge’s swim team come the fall.
“Everyone’s been telling me that it would be a waste if I didn’t do it. It was really, honestly, more of everyone else’s decision than my own,” he laughed.
Before he takes his swimming talents to Alberta, however, Hiraoka has one more season with the Golden Dolphins. When he joined the club he looked up to a few of the veteran swimmers, those who had reached the level that Hiraoka aspired to reach himself. Now, the tables have turned.
“I never thought I would get to that point because watching the guys swim, I always thought they were top notch and I always wanted to be like them…it’s still weird for me to think about,” he said.
“Yesterday I was doing some stretches and I kind of gathered a small group who were duplicating my stretches. They were asking me questions about fly and stuff and I want to be nothing but a good influence and help them out.”
As the Wednesday night session comes to a close, Hiraoka’s gruelling training regimen ends for another day. Less than 24 hours later he was due to be back in the pool again, continuing along the long, arduous path to the CIS. Hopefully next time it will be under sunnier skies.