Widening the pool

U of G head swim coach leading way for Black women in sport

The sensation of being immersed in water is something Chantique Carey-Payne, the recently named head coach of the University of Guelph’s swim program, has always loved. She took to swimming at age 3 as though she’d been born to it. Her athletic ability and intelligence drove her to perfection. Now she trains others to swim to the best of their ability.

“I just love being in the water,” she says. “Just the feeling of it is something I find pretty fantastic. I don’t know why I loved the sport of swimming so much, but I just never got bored with it.”

After a varsity career that saw her win numerous provincial and national medals, Carey-Payne was named as U of G’s head coach in 2017. At the relatively young age of 27, she had become the first Black woman in Canada to be named head coach of a university swim program.

“When I found out I got the job, I was so excited,” she says. “Being a head coach was my dream, but I never anticipated I would reach that goal as early as I did. Shock was my first reaction. And then, I was so grateful.”

While she had dared to dream of becoming a university coach, she understood the realities that made fulfillment of the dream a long shot. As a Black woman, she knew that her race and her gender might limit her chances.

“Being a female coach in the sport of swimming is not something that you see very often at higher levels. There are very few of us across all of Canada at the national and varsity level. So for someone to give me a chance as a very young, female Black coach was really amazing.”

“I try very hard to make sure everybody gets the same amount of attention and the same privileges.”

A multiple medal winner for the U of G swim team, Carey-Payne was an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) All-Star in each of the four years she competed for the Gryphons from 2007 to 2011. She earned 11 OUA medals and eight national university medals in her varsity career. Her specialty was the butterfly stroke, but she also excelled in freestyle.

After her competitive career, she began coaching with the Guelph Marlins Swim Club. She also served as a full-time assistant coach with the Gryphons and coached the Canadian Lifesaving Team.

“With the U of G team, I try to make it as inclusive as possible, and I carry a really large team for that reason,” she said. “I try very hard to make sure everybody is equal on the team – everybody gets the same amount of attention and the same privileges, whether they are making the U Sports national standard or struggling to make it to OUA championships. Everybody is valued.”

Carey-Payne longs for the sport to become more racially diverse, although it will take time and effort, she says.

“There are very few Black kids who are swimming and very few Black kids who are looking at swimming when they come to university. Getting more Black people involved in competitive swimming is something I’m very passionate about.”

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