Sam Norrie-Loewenthal wasn’t much of a swimmer two years ago but the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.
At just eight years old, Norrie-Loewenthal recently finished his level 10 swimming course, which typically isn’t completed until the teenage years. To get level 10, a student has to swim 500 metres consecutively and tread water for three minutes, as well as pass other water safety tests.
“He just really enjoyed it and he’s easily the best swimmer in our house now, my husband and I are not as good,” joked Sam’s mom, Kim.
“It was a surprise for us. We didn’t know he would be as strong as that… we didn’t set out to do anything specifically, it was just something that he took to.”
Dominique MacDonald, Swimming and Water Safety volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross said young boy’s accomplishment was pretty unique for several reasons.
“For sure that is a commitment that the whole family must have taken, to basically push forward. It’s obvious (Sam) loves the water. On average I would say completing level 10 is in the teens,” she said.
“The key is really that swimming lessons are not just about learning how to swim. It’s about learning how to be safe in and on the water. That’s a pretty mature eight-year-old to have the learning and the understanding and the awareness about preventing water injuries…
“It’s not just the physical – mobility, motor skills and things like that, they also have the cognitive and awareness and maturity level to put the work in and focus on those prevention pieces.”
Sam started swimming lessons just a few months after his sixth birthday and got so caught up in the lessons, he didn’t want to stop.
“Right away in January, we put him in for his first level and had success right away and wanted to try again to get the next level. So we put him in back-to-back lessons… we just kept doing it,” Kim said.
That forced the family to get inventive during the pandemic, which closed pools at points during the last year – ultimately Sam was able to knock off his goal in less than three years, all before his ninth birthday in October.
“His goal was always to see if he could finish them before he turned nine. It’s just something he seemed to really enjoy and it was a goal for him,” Kim said.
Although Sam usually enjoys hockey in the winter and soccer in the summer, they decided to try something different when he took to swimming.
“He always liked swimming but he wasn’t naturally strong until he started the Red Cross Swim Kids Program. He absolutely loved being in the water but not naturally strong. He couldn’t swim when he started,” Kim said.
It was important to the family that Sam had something to strive for during the pandemic and learning a life skill would help him down the road.
As for the next step, Sam has to wait until he’s at least 10 to complete his bronze star, the next level of swimming accomplishments.
“I just kept on trying until I finished and I was really happy,” Sam said of his accomplishment.