Building on family values, Kigoos celebrating 60th year

By Don Fennell

Published 2:27 PDT, Tue May 28, 2019

Last Updated: 2:12 PDT, Wed May 12, 2021

In an Indigenous language, kigoo is a fast-swimming fish. A pretty apt name for a Richmond swim club that throughout its 60-year history has routinely led the pack.

In an Indigenous language, kigoo is a fast-swimming fish. A pretty apt name for a Richmond swim club that throughout its 60-year history has routinely led the pack.

A perennial summer-swimming power, the Kigoos have consistently placed at or near the top of the regionals and provincials.

But as successful as they have been in competition, the club's atmosphere has been paramount to its success and longevity.

"The culture created at Kigoos is almost impossible not to buy into," says Emmy Obedkoff, entering her fifth year as the club's head coach.

"When I first moved to the Lower Mainland (for post-secondary school), I applied at a lot of local summer swim clubs. Kigoos was not initially even on my radar because it was so far away from where I was living, but as soon as I was interviewed I knew this was a club I needed to be a part of."

Just from speaking with two executive members, Obedkoff immediately sensed the values instilled in the Kigoos were in line with her own belief system about what summer swimming should be about--values that had always been important to her.

During her nearly five years with the Kigoos, she says she has come to feel part of a community centered around family, fun and inclusion "that is unlike any other organization that I have ever been a part of."

For Obedkoff, 24, summer swimming has always been an extension of family. Her best friends today remain those she met swimming for her hometown club in Kelowna starting at age four.

"There is an environment created in summer swimming that is just not replicated in other sports," she says.

That sense of belonging is felt throughout the Kigoos, including the coaching staff which other than Obedkoff have all followed a long-standing model of going from swimmer to volunteer to coach.

"Whether competitive or purely recreational, the Kigoos has a place for everyone," Obedkof emphasizes. "From provincial record-breakers to swimmers just hoping to learn how to confidently get from one side of the pool to the other. There's also a wide spectrum of age groups--from three-year-olds (in the Tater Tots program) to parents and grandparents in the masters program (which is a year-round program)."

One of Richmond's oldest sporting organizations, the Kigoos have been instilling family values since the beginning in 1959. They continue to be the foundation for building lifelong friendships and love for the sport.

President Chris Kennedy likes to describe the Kigoos as "a club that swims in the summer, rather than a summer swim club."

"While many sports clubs have changed a lot in recent times, and many have moved to sports specialization and high-paid elite coaches, what I like best about the Kigoos is that it is very similar to what it was like a generation ago," Kennedy says. "And while some clubs are in decline, we continue to be fully subscribed with about 230 swimmers (making it one of the largest summer swim clubs in the province). It is a model that works."

From the president to registrar to official, no one gets paid. The Kigoos is a fine example of volunteering at its best.

Well-known in local and provincial baskeball circles as a coach and administrator, Kennedy has been with the Kigoos for the last 10 years. Though never a competitive swimmer growing up, he was attracted to the club while teaching at Hugh McRoberts Secondary where, he says, "I saw so many great kids and families involved with the Kigoos I knew I would want my family to be part of it."

Kennedy says his four kids love being Kigoos, and appreciate that it's only a four-month season. He adds many of the Kigoos are multi-sport athletes, a list that includes Dakota Chan who has just competed her fifst year on a soccer scholarship at the University of Nebraska.

The Kigoos' diamond celebration season starts June 1, with the appropriately-named annual Ice Breaker at venerable Steveston Pool. Then on June 15, the club will celebrate its 60th anniversary with an alumni swim meet and a banquet for current and former members.

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