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‘I feel a pretty big responsibility to the club and to the swimmers’: Swim coach building program in northern Manitoba

Nick Popiel speaks to his swim team at the Pan Am Pool on Saturday, May 26, 2018.
Nick Popiel speaks to his swim team at the Pan Am Pool on Saturday, May 26, 2018. Nolan Kowal / Global News

One pool is all Nick Popiel needs.

The head coach of The Pas Roadrunners Swim Club has been leading young swimmers in the northern Manitoba community for seven years.

A Grade 6 teacher by day, Popiel travels throughout the Prairies for most of the year attending swim meets with his team, a job that always keeps him on his toes.

“[It’s] kind of the challenge of motivating them,” Popiel said, as his team was competing at a meet at Pan Am Pool last Saturday. “And then on the flip side of that, just the rewards of when the swimmers see success.”

With The Pas having just one swimming pool, Popiel is in charge of a tight knit group of kids. His work stretches beyond coaching.

“I know all the kids both at the pool and also outside of the pool and all the parents too, so it’s a pretty small community,” Popiel, who is originally from Toronto, said. “I guess I feel a pretty big responsibility to the club and to the swimmers.”

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One of those swimmers is Joseph Ducharme, who said his coach brings a lot of passion to their club.

“He inspires us a lot, makes us work really hard, pushes us,” Ducharme, a Grade 9 student in The Pas, said. “He’s kind of scary sometimes but he’s the reason I’m a good swimmer. Sometimes he gets so passionate because he wants us to get better. He gets mad when we’re not doing our best and it makes us want to try our best for him.”

Popiel, 38, said the team usually travels to meets at least once a month in cities like Winnipeg, Brandon, Saskatoon and Regina. His dedication has earned him high praise from his peers.

“He’s a go-to-guy, he takes charge,” Mark Fellner, former executive director of Swim Manitoba, said. “If it goes until midnight and he has to be up at five the next morning, he will finish that day to create an environment for his swimmers in his community and his region.”

Popiel was a competitive swimmer up until he started university, and taught English overseas after completing his education. He said he has no plans to leave The Pas anytime soon.

“I love The Pas and I like the group of swimmers and families and the team that we’ve built,” he said. Just really hope to get a couple of swimmers to the next level.”

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