Friday, 12 August 2011 13:20

Fort Macleod athlete part of team competing in South Africa

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By Susan Quinlan
Fort Macleod
Although most are familiar with the sport of competitive swimming, a number of these athletes have turned their attention to lifesaving sport, the number one sport in Australia and one gaining significant popularity throughout Europe.
In Canada, lifesaving sport is also catching on, with athletes including Fort Macleod’s Gordon Heine, 22, taking part and proving his mettle. He was recently selected for Canada’s national team to compete in South Africa this September.

“I was extremely surprised and ecstatic when I learned that I made the Development Commonwealth Team. I still can't believe that I get to compete for Canada at the international level, and in South Africa of all places.”

Heine has been competing in the sport for two years and had no expectations of being chosen. However, he was thrilled to get the good news during the awards ceremony at the 2011 Canadian Pool Lifesaving Championship this past June in Surrey, B.C., when Team Alberta again won first place and the Commonwealth Team was also announced.

“I love winning. It felt fantastic for Alberta to win the title for the third year running.”

Having swam competitively since age 6, Heine as well took Red Cross swimming lessons during the summer, achieving the Bronze Medallion and Bronze Cross levels and also completing the National Life Saving Course. He then spent summers working as a lifeguard in Fort Macleod and later in Lethbridge.

“Then I swam for the University of Lethbridge for two years. My first year I was voted Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and was awarded for peak performance.”

According to Heine, it was his U of L coach, Jonathan Yamashita, who identified his potential in lifesaving sport and encouraged him to be part of Team Alberta.

“I knew through Gordon’s involvement in varsity swimming and with his combined background as a lifeguard and his love for surfing, that he was a prime candidate for competitive lifesaving ... and I knew he was fast,” said Yamashita.

“I honestly couldn’t be happier that Gordon has been chosen to represent Alberta and Canada at the national level (in South Africa). It’s very fulfilling watching someone progress through regional and national level events, to be chosen to be a representative of their country, and to think that I have played some part in his development as an athlete and lifesaver. Gord has really showcased the talent that Southern Alberta has.”

Yamashita will as well compete in South Africa, as Heine’s teammate, along with Brittany Rosentreter who like Yamashita is from Lethbridge.

Lifesaving sport events include rescues and races in the pool and surf, requiring athletes swim, tow, run, throw, paddle and surf ski in competition with others frequently in timed events.

“I plan on competing at least for a couple more years since I’ve just scratched the surface.”

Heine said the best part of being involved in the sport of lifesaving is the actual racing and team atmosphere.

“It’s awesome, being able to spend a solid week with your buddies at the pool and have an excuse to eat as much food as you possibly can. When I’m racing, I try to eat around 5,000 calories a day.”

In addition, Heine said the type of equipment used in the sport as well makes it interesting.

“The major thing is the mannequins filled with water.”

Heine said they weigh about 60 pounds and are used in various competitions. For example, in one such timed competition, swimmers are each assigned a lane in the pool and when the gun fires, they dive in carrying a harness on their shoulder, swim to the other end to ‘rescue’ the mannequin, place the harness around it, then tow it back to the starting point.

“It’s still a race, but strength, power and transition speed come into play a lot more than competitive swimming.”

Now living in Calgary where he works in retail and teaches swimming lessons, as well as trains, Heine recommended the sport of lifesaving to others.

“Anyone can do this sport. It’s super fun, fantastic fitness and there’s something for all skill levels.”

As to Heine’s participation in the 2011 Commonwealth Lifesaving Championships, each chosen athlete is required to raise $4,000 toward his or her trip.

Heine extended thanks for financial support to members of the masters swim class he teaches, and both he and Yamashita extend thanks to Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation for their ongoing support of Alberta’s athletes.

Anyone interested in making a contribution to the Commonwealth Team or to individual team members can do so by mailing their donation to The Royal Life Saving Society Canada, 287 McArthur Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, K1L 6P3. The donation can be earmarked for a specific athlete or event by noting same on the cheque. Any amount donated in excess of $10 will be issued a tax receipt.

The sport of lifesaving is the only known sport in the world where participants first learn the skills for a humanitarian purpose and only later use them in competition.

As the governing body for lifesaving sport in Canada, the Lifesaving Society promotes competition as a training incentive and a showcase for the abilities and professionalism of lifeguards.

Lifesaving events are divided into three types of competitions; surf/open water; pool; and emergency response. Within these competition types there are a variety of races and events that incorporate lifesaving skills.

To learn more about lifesaving sport, visit: or

A video of the 100 metre mannequin tow with fins race can be viewed at:, as an example of one of the events involved in lifesaving sport.

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