When he stepped up to the block at his first swim meet with the Shuswap Selkirks swim club, 16-year-old James LeBuke didn’t think he would find himself ranked among the top youth swimmers in Canada less than a year later.
Initally taking up swimming a few years earlier as something to keep him fit and occupied in the minor hockey off-season, LeBuke quickly found much to love about the sport despite struggling initially to compete with more experienced swimmers.
“I originally joined (the Selkirks) about a month before nationals last year. I was struggling to make a second swim or even make the ‘B’ finals. It was awesome if I got a second swim,” he says.
Though he had spent time in the pool with the Revelstoke Aquaducks in years past, even setting club records at the 2016 Provincials, LeBuke had not competed against senior-level swimmers before joining the Selkirks and by extension the Swim Canada competition program. However, before long things began to shift. His times steadily improved week-by-week, he saw himself in the finals more often and the thrill of competition kept him working to shave fractions of a second from his times.
“I came back to town after my first meet and started working hard and I made the Development B.C. team because of my performance. So I said, okay, I’ll try to qualify for one camp,” he says. “I don’t know what it was; I had just been training really hard and we improved my stroke significantly and then I made the B.C. provincial team.”
Before the swim season was over, LeBuke’s hard work in the pool would pay off in spades. He qualified to compete in the Western Canadian Championships in Victoria, returning with two bronze and two silver medals. He kept the momentum strong, making the strict time qualifications for the Senior National Competition in Edmonton and setting personal bests. From there the Selkirks went on to the Canadian Junior Championships in Winnipeg and LeBuke became the first Selkirk to win medals at a high-level national meet, earning a bronze and two silver.
He credits a commitment to constant improvement for his rise in the swimming world.
“I do practise about seven times a week. Some people swim about eight or nine times a week but it seems to have been working out for me,” he begins. “I just have to take advantage of the time I have in the pool. I just have to work harder than other people would in practice. I feel like if I didn’t train as hard as I did I don’t think I would have done as well.”
As for what makes him so passionate about swimming, LeBuke enjoys the focus on individual performance and constant improvement.
“I just love the competitiveness of it, and that it is all on you to do well,” he says. “Previously I had only played team sports, so you know there is a lot of dependence on teammates. But if you make a mistake in swimming, that’s all on you.”
Though he notes that further improvements to his swimming will only come with time and continued hard work, LeBuke has a few things on his mind that he aims to achieve next year.
“I’m hoping to get under the 51-second mark next year, and I’m hoping to compete at a national team meet. I want to maybe medal at a senior meet, it’s been surreal that I have been able to set goals and always exceed them,” he says.
In fact, he is setting some lofty goals that will be sure to keep him occupied for some time to come.
“The goal is to get a scholarship for school in Canada or to the states in the NCAA,” he begins. “Along the line I want to go to a couple Olympics. I’m really competitive so I would love to be the best in Canada… Maybe not 2020 but I am hoping for sure to go to the Olympics in 2024 for swimming and see what happens after that.”
(This story has been corrected from its initial version.)