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School is in session at PISE

Sports school trains Greater Victoria students with eye on elite competition
Ben Goertzen

Mornings at school are a little different for Ben Goertzen than they are for his classmates at Pacific Christian School.

That’s because the Grade 10 student doesn’t roll into PCS until around 10 a.m.

For four of the five school days in a week, Goertzen joins 12 other Greater Victoria students to train at the Pacific Institute for Sports Excellence in the Canadian Sports School program. The time spent at PISE is credited towards their high school educations.

Weightlifting, gymnastics and wind sprints dominate the classes, run by Olympic weightlifter Jeane Lassen.

“I’ve seen major improvements in a lot of my life, not just (weightlifting),” said Goertzen, who plays second base for the Victoria Eagles of the B.C. Premier Baseball League.

“On the diamond I’m faster and just feel all around stronger. Hopefully I can enroll again next  year.”

The program is open to elite-minded athletes from all disciplines and runs from September to June.

Getting in is a process. Athletes submit a letter of intent and references from coaches before getting interviewed. The program is capped at 25 students, 13 in the morning and 12 in the afternoon, from Grades 10 to 12.

“It’s for future Olympians and international athletes, hopefully,” said Lassen, the class instructor. “Or any athletes who is highly dedicated.”

Lassen represented Canada at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and was in London in 2012 but was injured. Instead, she assisted coaching staff helping teammate Christine Girard win bronze.

She relocated to Victoria last year to run the program at PISE, which also trains members of the Boardworks diving club.

“It’s a lot of technical coaching with weights but there’s also a classroom component,” Lassen said. “Guest speakers, including many Olympians, routinely talk to the students about sports psychology, nutrition and dedication.”

Gymnastics and sprints are each once a week while weights are a main focus.

“The reason we do weights is because we find the kids don’t have the core strength (at the higher percentiles). It’s also very technical. They do a lot without the weight to build the memory of doing it correctly. Later they can continue to add weight,” Lassen said.

What’s remarkable is how well the training transfers to various sports.

Grade 10 swimmers Sarah Mabee-Hall and Maddie Powell of Claremont secondary attend. So do Grade 12 Claremont rower Ali Zwicker and Grade 12 Spectrum community school rower Katie Griffin.

“It’s not just in the amount of power I put out (while rowing), but the strength also helps with balancing the fine movements that are so important with rowing,” Zwicker said.

Same goes for Mabee-Hall, a national level swimmer at just 15 years old.

Mabee-Hall qualified for the senior national swimming championships in July, hitting the standard for the 1,500-metre. But she has yet to specialize on a particular distance for competition and feels the difference in all areas of swimming, short and long course, she said.

“A high-speed tennis serve has been measured as the equivalent force used in a 75-kilogram jerk (in weightlifting)” Lassen said. “Often people are concerned about young athletes weightlifting but done properly it’s low risk and highly beneficial.

“The techniques of lifting are good life skills to have, whether you’re lifting furniture or getting back up from a tackle during a game.”

Ali Zwicker























Canadian Sports School athlete Ali Zwicker does a chin up in the High Performance gym at PISE. The Grade 12 rower at Claremont secondary school  attends class at PISE four days a week.