A remarkable life and successful swimming career that showed great promise for the future came to an end last weekend when Tara Sloan passed away at the age of 20.
Tara was a member of the Dinos swim club for seven years and a member of the varsity swim team for one year. She took the 1999/2000 season off from the varsity team to concentrate on training for the 2000 Olympic Games, although she was still taking courses at the University of Calgary.
"Her passing will be noticed by the swimming community from around the world," said Mike Blondal, who coached Tara with the U of C swim club.
Sloan held the Canadian record in the 100m breaststroke and had been ranked as high as ninth in the world. She had a very good chance of making it to Sydney.
"She was aiming for the Olympics," said Blondal. "These and 2004. We were thinking this was just the beginning."
Blondal was close to Sloan. Beyond the coach-athlete relationship, he considered her a friend.
"I knew her and her family very well," he said. "We spent Christmases and Easters and many special nights together."
Tara’s success went beyond the pool into other aspects of her life. Artistically inclined, she was a talented folk singer and composer, and her interests included pottery and drawing.
"We talked a fair bit about how you mix swimming with growth in your outside life."
At the national championships in Etobicoke, Ontario last week, the U of C swim club took both the men’s and women’s titles. The swimmers were told of Tara’s death before the final day of competition and dedicated the meet to her.
"They did it like I’ve never seen before," said Blondal. "It was a special evening for Tara. It was a great way to honour her. We ended up winning on the efforts from that evening."
For some of the swimmers, it was difficult to compete, having just learned of their friend’s passing.
"A lot of people thought they couldn’t possibly swim. There were a lot of tears, from our team and the other teams. It’s a small community, and they’ve all travelled internationally together."
A team cheer for Tara inspired the Dinos to press on.
"I knew the kids would be fine. They all swam well and spoke of her [in interviews] after the meet."
Olympic trials are in 10 weeks time, and that event is certain to be another emotional time, with the notable absence of Sloan.
"She was a spark with a lot of the athletes," said Blondal.
A celebration of Tara’s life will be held at the First Alliance Church (1201 Glenmore Tr. S.W.) on Sat., Mar. 18 at 2 p.m. Donations to the Tara Sloan Scholarship Fund can be made at any Royal Bank or Royal Trust locations.