A world-class swimmer is lifeguarding at the Grand Forks and District Aquatic Centre while training for the next Olympics.
James Dergousoff, 25, recently told The Gazette that he nearly made the Canadian national swim team in 2016 and again in 2021. He took a full-time position at the pool in early November so that he could self-fund his dream of breaking the world record in the men’s 200-metre breaststroke.
With the time to beat now at 126 seconds, setting a new record won’t be easy. But, Dergousoff said he’s come in at two seconds under the mark in his training sessions this year. “I just haven’t done it at a meet yet,” he laughed.
Dergousoff isn’t the type to say he’s a natural-born swimmer, but his early childhood feats seem to bear that out.
He started swimming at the aquatic centre at six months old. “Basically, it was a way to get me to sleep at night,” which is hardly surprising, given his seemingly boundless energy.
“By age two, I was swimming in the deep end, diving for rings off the floor.”
This tended to draw the attention of wary lifeguards who would send him back to the wading pool, but Dergousoff wouldn’t stay there for long.
At four, he’d broken his first swim meet record, placing first at the 25-metre backstroke. He drew a great deal of his inspiration from his older sister, Katie, who was fast on her way to becoming an elite swimmer in her own right.
He attended a special, sports-oriented high school in West Vancouver, going on to compete on an international level.
In order to make the national swim team, Canadian men have to either rank among the world’s top-16 swimmers in their event or place first at Olympic trials. Dergousoff said he gave his best at the 2016 trials, where his time was “under a second from putting me on the team.”
He placed second at the trials for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic’s, having missed the top spot by an even smaller margin. Dergousoff said he’d been “overconfident,” even though he’d spent endless hours training in Christina Lake and at the aquatic centre, then closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions.
For now, he’s a full-time lifeguard at the aquatic centre, where he’s made a great addition to the team.
“He makes everyone smile and laugh. James is definitely a huge contributor to the positive morale on our job site,” program supervisor Melina Van Hoogevest said.
At its most basic, Dergousoff said his job description as a lifeguard is to wait for people who need rescue. But he’d rather focus on the positive side. “I’m a greeter,” he explained. “I’m here to make someone else smile if they’re having a bad day. And I also play aa role on the staff’s first aid team.”
He’s also on the men’s swim team at Quebec City’s Laval University and he’s got his eyes on 2024, when he hopes to represent Canada at the Summer Olympics in Paris.