By Kristian Rasmussen
A dream that began in the pools at Radium Hot Springs has risen with the steam to travel to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Invermere chiropractor, Dr. Karen Fahrni, began her swimming career at the Radium pools when she was 10. She went on to swim competitively around the world, became a coach, and is now attending the 2012 Paralympic Games to cheer on one of her past students, part-time Radium resident, Morgan Bird.
Before she became Dr. Fahrni, Karen was a young non-swimmer born into an Edgewater, Swiss-Canadian household. After spending a year at school in Switzerland, she found herself lagging behind the other students when it came to aquatic activity. She returned home to Canada and began swimming at the Radium pools with the local team, The Silverfins.
“We were the only outdoor team in Canada that swam all year round and had to deal with snowballs and steam,” Karen said. “In the first year I took off with swimming and loved it. I have been hooked ever since.”
During her teen years Karen went on to swim competitively in Calgary, competed at Swiss Nationals twice, and swam at the Far Western Meet in California.
While she was swimming up to 13 kilometres a day for the University of Calgary Dinos, Karen suffered a back injury that closed the lane on her competitive swimming plans and opened a whole new pool of dreams.
“It is a hard thing to transition from swimming nine times a week, where your teammates are your family, to not being a part of that,” Karen said.
“I got asked if I would like to coach and I thought it was a no-brainer.”
As she made the transition from ‘Karen’, to ‘Coach Karen’, a very special student splashed into her life.
In 2003, Morgan Bird was an 11-year-old swimmer with cerebral palsy who looked up to her first coach on the pool deck. Morgan practised with able-bodied swimmers and showed Karen what can happen with determination and a positive attitude.
“This girl would come in with the biggest smile on her face, no matter how hard you made her swim and no matter what you asked her to do,” Karen said.
“I always said to her, ‘Morgan, one day you are going to swim in the Olympics and Coach Karen is going to come and watch.”
Nine years later, Karen remains true to her word, and will soon be boarding a plane to travel to London to watch Morgan compete at the Paralympic Games on August 30th.
“When I swam, I had my dream of one day competing at the Olympics, but if you can’t swim at the Olympics another great thing is helping someone else to get there,” she said. “I think there will be a few tears of joy.”
Morgan, whose family lives in Radium part-time, found out that she qualified for the Paralympic Games on June 4th.
The Games are the culmination of a journey in competitive swimming that began when she was 11, and has taken her all over Canada, America and Brazil, and now across the Atlantic to London.
When her past coach told her that one day she would compete at the Olympics, Morgan was less than convinced.
“I thought she was crazy,” she said. “I said, ‘Yeah right, Karen.’ Now that it is actually happening it’s a dream come true. Karen can say, ‘I told you so.’”
Morgan has been competing in the sport for the past nine years and loves the rewards and support that she takes away from swimming, both in and out of the pool.
“When you enjoy something, it tends to bring the best out from within you,” the 18-year-old said.
“I have grown up in a very supportive atmosphere with loving parents and a great brother. My friends, family, and swim team bring out the hard work and happiness within me.”
Morgan is currently staying in Italy and will be swimming her favoured event, the 100-metre butterfly, on August 30th in London.
“The Paralympic Games are something I have been working for ever since I started swimming,” Morgan said. “To actually be going is unbelievable. I will be making memories that will stay with me forever and I am honoured to be part of the Canadian team.”
Morgan will be celebrating her 19th birthday during the Games and is looking forward to making Canada and her old coach proud.
“My strategy is going to be swim fast, have fun and enjoy the experience.”
After competing, Morgan will come to the Radium pools at the end of September to speak to athletes about her experiences at the Olympics.
“I want to show that you can be successful in anything you do, even with a disability,” Morgan said. “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.