A Balzac-based water polo athlete is not letting the COVID-19 pandemic get in the way of her training regimen.
Kyra Christmas, who lives on an acreage southeast of Airdrie, has built a makeshift pool on her family’s property with hay bales, landscaping fabric, straps and other materials.
“Because all the pools were shut down because of COVID, it was hard to find ways to train,” said the 23-year-old member of Canada’s national women’s water polo team. “I was getting pretty restless and wanted to buy one of those above-ground pools. But we realized those pools aren’t deep enough to tread water in, which is what most of my training requires,”
After buying more than a dozen hay bales from a resident near Carstairs, Christmas and her family spent two full days constructing the pool. She said they laid landscaping fabric atop the bales so the hay wouldn’t puncture the tarps that were added on top.
“We laid the fabric first, and then laid two layers of tarp,” she said. “We used straps – the kind you use on trucks when you’re transporting things – and had to build braces to hold the bales in place. The first time we filled it up with water, it started moving, and we were nervous about it falling over or leaking, so we put these braces up against the hay bales to keep them in place.”
The ingenuity worked, and Christmas now has a place to continue training. The pool is 16 feet long, eight feet wide and six feet deep.
She added a rebounder and a water polo net so she can practice receiving a pass and firing a shot at the goal, and also has a resistance band that allows her to swim in the pool – similar to a treadmill.
Originally from High River, Christmas said she got into water polo at the age of eight after swimming with the High River Otters Swim Club. She said one of the parents of an athlete on her swim team was a member of South Africa’s national water polo team, and he started a new club in High River to introduce local kids to the sport.
“When he started it, I was too young to join at first, but my brother started playing it and he enjoyed it,” Christmas said. “I was always competitive and wanted to be like my brothers and do what they were doing better, so I wanted to join.”
As the years went by, Christmas’ involvement with the sport increased and she became more competitive, eventually playing for the Calgary Renegades Water Polo Club. In Grade 11, she moved to Calgary so she could attend the National Sport School and pursue the sport full-time.
At the age of 15, Christmas made her first youth national team in 2014, when she competed for the U19 Canadian squad at the Pan American Games. She has been with the national team system since then and her first senior national team appearance came in 2016, at the age of 18.
Christmas’ water polo career continued in university, after she received a water polo scholarship from the University of the Pacific, a Division-1 NCAA program in California. She competed for the Stockton-based school for four seasons, scoring 211 career goals – 20 shy of the third-highest scorer in program history.
A highlight of her career, however, was qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics with Team Canada. While the Olympics have been postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic, she said her inspiration for the event hasn’t waned.
“Our team hasn’t qualified [for the Olympics] since 2004, so it’s quite a big deal for our program, and Water Polo Canada,” she said. “It’s helped broadcast and spread awareness of the sport in Canada, because it’s not a very popular sport here. I also have just dreamt of being an Olympian since I was really young.
“It’s hard that it’s a year away, again, but it’s not hard to stay motivated when you’ve dreamt of something for so long.”