Sharks glided underneath David Creel as he swam on the Canadian National Open Water Swim Team at yet another competition. This time he was in Egypt. The Kokanee Swim Club kids were drawn into the conversation at incredible speed. Their attention was riveted on Creel’s every word. After all, it is not every day a young swimmer has the opportunity to sit in close quarters with an athlete of the caliber Creel is.
With world championship medals and accreditation cards from major international events hanging around the necks of a small group of enthralled kids, Creel talked about growing up in a small town. He talked about his charge and drive through the ranks to make it onto the podium not once or twice, but almost three hundred times and he talked about opportunities. Creel travelled the world all expenses paid as a member of the Canadian swim team. He met hundreds of competitors and inadvertently created a second family along the way. “The camaraderie with my teammates was my best memory,” said Creel looking back.
Creel began swimming competitively at age ten. “My former husband, David’s dad, was a physician,” stated mom Del Hall. “We were living in a small town in New Brunswick when we started our family and we relocated to the Okanagan because there was a lack of recreational facilities there. So when people ask me why physicians leave small towns, I can say…sometimes it is because they want more for their families and because they can—they are in high demand.”
David competed in Vernon for nine years.
“My first medal was in backstroke,” said Creel.
“When David went to his first provincial’s,” his mom added, “he was annoyed that he had to swim the same race more than once. He swam again and won gold.”
“I don’t consider myself to be the most talented swimmer,” said Creel, “but I would like to think that I was one of the hardest working.” Creel emphasized determination and community spirit as being important to his journey to the national team. “Vernon didn’t have the kind of pool some of my competitors had,” he stated, “but we had good coaches and a pool that worked.”
Creel swam against Michael Phelps and came in third. He also swam against many other world class athletes. Sometimes he won and sometimes they did. Creel quotes 1992 Canadian Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury from his book Visions of Excellence, “We were just an average family. We weren’t rich enough to buy the best training money could buy.”
“The provisions of local facilities is key to health of a community and to the development of future athletes,” Creel stated. “Most Canadian athletes are nurtured in local clubs when they are introduced to sport. This was my experience.”
Creel went from Vernon to Victoria where he was met again by a coaching staff that really cared. His resume includes: 2002 FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships -Egypt; 2002 FINA World Cup – Egypt; 2003 FINA world Aquatic Championships – Barcelona; 2004 FINA World Cup Open Water Swimming Championships -Dubai; 2004 FINA World Cup – Atlantic City; 2005 FINA World Aquatic Championships – Montreal; 2006 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships – Victoria; 2006 FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships – Italy; 2006 FINA World Cup – New York/Brazil; 2007 FINA World Aquatic Championships – Australia; 2007 FINA World Cup – Quebec and 2009 FINA World Aquatic Championships – Italy. Every medal was hard earned.
Big waves, rough water, 14 degree water and 32 degree water were all part of the game. Creel once swam 25 kilometers in 5 hours. “My main goal was always to keep improving,” he said. “One of my coaches told me, “All you need is a lane.” I lived by this saying for many years along with, “Only you can stop you.” As long as you work hard anything can happen. The possibilities are endless.”
A soft voice and modest personality mask colossal drive and outstanding athleticism. David Creel holds these titles: 2002 Canadian Male Swimmer of the Year; 2007 Canadian Open Water Swimmer of the Year and 2009 Canadian Open Water Swimmer of the Year. His visit to Princeton and a small club with big dreams brought the kids joy and new focus. “Swimming is a healthy lifestyle,” Creel added. “Drowning is the number one cause of death in Canada, and it doesn’t have to be. Swimming can take you all over the world or just keep you healthy and help you make friends. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. A lot of youth get into drugs and alcohol and swimming made us a part of something bigger than all that. We learned that hard work pays off and helps you achieve things.”
Creel coaches in Victoria now at the Commonwealth pool and also at Gordonhead. “Swimming takes kids off the streets and is a sport for all ages. Our number one intake of money comes from aquafit classes. I would like to see a new pool here in Princeton. It is an exciting time for the local swim club. I worked as a lifeguard and am now coaching. Swimming and being active have enriched my life immensely. It can do the same for these kids and the generations to follow.”