Aidan Chudleigh

When you consider sports in a town like Fernie, mountain biking, hockey and skiing are likely what comes to mind. But this has changed. As Fernie has grown and evolved, so have the recreational opportunities for both kids and adults. People move to town, bringing with them their expertise and knowledge and they can’t help but get involved. Aidan Chudleigh is one of these individuals, who has been instrumental in turning Fernie into a swimming community. 

Aidan is originally from Sydney, Australia but as his dad worked in pharmaceuticals, their family moved to Indiana in the United States when Aidan was ten years old. “It was the middle of nowhere,” he tells me. “The people were nice but had really different views,” he remembers. 

After moving back to Australia, Aidan completed high school and stayed in Sidney for University. His older sister has scoliosis, and growing up would swim a lot, “as it was the best way for her to work on her posture and straighten her spine,” he says. “My brother was just so energetic he had to swim, and he got really good and received a full scholarship to America. I fell into it too, watching them and swam my entire childhood alongside other sports.” 

Aidan lists the sports to me, and my jaw drops. Rugby, baseball, and basketball, on top of swimming ten times a week.  

“I enjoyed sport. I would leave home at 5am and get home at night. I really enjoyed the structure and schedule, hence why I went into engineering.”

At the age of 19, Aidan decided to coach as it helped to fund his studies. “At first I only taught 3-7-year old swimmers. I only started teaching competitive athletes two years into the journey. When I stared working as an engineer, I missed coaching so I decided to get back into it full-time alongside my engineering job,” Aidan says. His dad could see how exhausted and tired he was and suggested he travel for a couple of years and worry about his career later. 

“I had a friend I had known since primary school living in Fernie, Matthew Ruhan, so I asked him how Canada was. He told me Fernie was a great town, so the plan was to go there to be a lifty for a season,” he smiles, knowing this is the classic Fernie story. Aidan decided to stay, and he asked the Elk Valley Dolphins Swim Club (EVDSC) if they had a role for him, which was timely as they had coaches leaving. 

“They asked if I wanted to be head coach, and I said yes.”

This was in 2016, and Aidan’s eight years of experience were pretty impressive to this small-town club of 38 swimmers and two coaches. Seven years later, the Elk Valley Dolphins has grown to an impressive 226 swimmers with ten coaches. “And next year we’re planning on 12 coaches, as we have a wait list of 70,” Aidan adds.  

What I love about Aidan and the EVDSC in general is their perspective. They only expect 10-15% of their athletes to be competitive in the long run. The goal is for them to develop a life skill and to be safe and strong in the water. 

“We want them to have fun, to be able to do other sports, and to recognize the benefits of swimming for cross-training. I’ve only taught three Olympians, and none of them competed in swimming… two were runners, and one a pentathlete.

We were mainly focused on competitive kids when we started, and now our youngest swimmer is two and a bit, and the oldest is 67. This is a sport that anyone of any ability can join and get some benefit from.” 

During COVID, Aidan and his girlfriend decided to move to Australia. 

“There was some uncertainty, and I had some friends getting married and experiencing big life events. After three days in hotel quarantine, we knew we would go back but decided to stick it out for a year. When we moved back to Fernie, I started working as an Environmental Engineer with Parastone, not anticipating parent’s wallet or bank account shouldn’t impact how successful their kids are,” Aidan says. 

The club recently had their first “team travel” swim meet in Calgary, with 33 kids attending… nine who had never been to an out of town swim meet before. 

“It is working, and it’s a system we’ll keep on building. We need to have creative solutions to ensure kids don’t lose out - we want to be inclusive.” 

The Dolphins plan to continue expanding their programming, offering quality lessons with the main goal to graduate swimmers out of the club. 

“We want to create a place they can grow through, with teammates. We also have a Teen Fitness program, as understand that competitive swimming isn’t for everyone. There isn’t much for teens to do when it gets dark, so this provides an opportunity to swim a session with a coach twice a week. It’s a social and positive activity, and great cross training for other sports.” 

2024 is going to be an impressive year for this “small town” club, and we’re excited to follow along as they continue to grow, expand and create opportunities for more individuals to ‘dive’ into the sport. 

Dolphins and future Dolphins, rest assured, Aidan and his girlfriend have confirmed that Fernie is home. How lucky are we?

1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here?
2016, and Matthew Ruhan was the reason I came here. 

2. Who do you remember first meeting?
When I arrived in town, Matt wasn’t here so I went to meet his best friend, Paulie! I walked into the Raging Elk, saw a guy playing pool and assumed it was him. We played pool for a while until I realized it wasn’t Paulie - he was behind the bar. 

3. Do you remember your first general impression of the Elk Valley?
Like, beautiful. Being from Australia we don’t have many mountains. Driving from Calgary to Fernie, I was in awe and was so amazed by the outdoor activities.

4. What keeps you here?
I love the swim club, but all the outdoor activities… hiking, trail running, the lifestyle balance. My life is a lot fuller than it was in Sidney. 

5. Do you have a favourite pastime?
I love trail running, I also like floating down the river with Matty. 

6. What time of the year do you love most and why?
Same as everyone else, I came for winter and I love the summer. It is my favourite season by far, just all the activities you can do and how late it gets dark. 

7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years.
I hope to see Fernie still growing in a sustainable way, retaining its sense of community, and not turning into an Aspen or ski resort like that. 

8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals?
I wake up at 5:15am before swimming, and generally sit down and have a coffee and do a Rubik’s Cube and try to not get on my phone before I go to work. Then, I start coaching at 6:30am. 

9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.
I have been taking singing lessons for the last year, and I am still absolutely terrible. I was trying to learn “Party in the USA,” thinking it would be a fun Karaoke song to do with the kids… but I butcher it every single time. 

10. Quote to live by: The one that I say often at swim club is that swimming is an asset for life.