VanHerk Sisters Dive In

John Van Herk proudly supports his daughters Shania and Justine

John Van Herk proudly supports his daughters Shania and Justine (Photo taken by Don Burton)


Justine VanHerk and younger sister Shania have been swimming alongside each other, competing for the Blenheim Blast swim team since elementary school. They both continued their swimming career throughout high school, and two years ago Justine took her career to a higher level when she joined the Guelph Gryphons swim team. This coming fall, Justine is welcoming Shania to Guelph with open arms.

“Guelph is a great university,” Justine says. “I know Shania will work hard wherever she goes, but it will be pretty cool having her by my side.”

Shania is very excited to take the next step in her athletic career as well.

“I look forward to making long-lasting friendships with people on the team, having somewhere to belong, and of course, improving my times,” she says. “I like how varsity swimming is team oriented and everyone shows a lot of support.”

Shania is also looking forward to swimming alongside Justine. She says having her there will be very helpful and motivating.

“Swimming with Justine will be a good experience because we will push each other to be faster. It will be nice to share my experience with her and we’ll both be there to support one another,” she says.

Although Justine and Shania have been swimming together for the majority of their lives, Justine says sibling rivalry doesn’t play a predominant role in their relationship.

“We are all very different swimmers, so it’s hard to compare us,” she says. “I find a lot of pride in my family’s success, so I think that I tend to be more encouraging and motivating than competitive.”

While looking at universities to attend, Shania said Justine helped to give her some insight on what Guelph had to offer both academically and for varsity swimmers. She found many positive aspects.

“They have a great human kinetics program, the swim program is good and is still improving, the coach showed a lot of interest, and the team was really nice,” says Shania.

Now that her decision is finalized, Shania has already been setting high goals for herself.

“I’m hoping to make OUA and CIS cuts, but I also aim to make senior provincial and senior national cuts if I can,” she says. “I want to improve a lot and I think with the increased amounts of training and dry land sessions I can do this if things turn out the way I want them to.”

Justine says her biggest piece of advice for Shania would be to focus on balance.

“I learned pretty fast how to time manage between classes and 15-20 hours of practice a week and competitions, but I don’t want her to forget to have fun and enjoy the university experience while she’s doing it.”

Justine, who is entering into her third year at Guelph, said she took some time off to focus on school during her second year to find this balance, but is ready to make a big splash this season.

“Taking time off was a great opportunity to learn about what works for me as an athlete and a student,” she says. “Next year, I look forward to taking on more of a leadership role on the team.”

“There were some awesome veteran swimmers on the team in my rookie year that helped shape me into the swimmer I am today. I would love to pay it forward to the team and be that person for someone else.”

Both siblings say swimming has played a major role in their development throughout their lives.

“Swimming has challenged me in ways that have taught me discipline, hard work, time management, and how to make sacrifices,” says Justine. “Although it hasn’t always been easy, it has definitely been worth it.”

Shania says that hard work, the right mindset, and a lot of training are what she needs to improve her skills.

“It’s not all physical, there are a lot of mental aspects to swimming. I need to keep the right mindset and believe in myself in order to succeed.”

The VanHerk sisters have always worked hard to reach their goals and achieve success, but Justine says that her parents have always had a huge influence on them.

“My dad was my coach as a club swimmer and had my best interests in mind,” she says. “He has always been as huge motivator and would be the first one to look up our results.”

“Mom is the quieter one on the sidelines, but has always been the family’s number one fan. Having their support has been so important throughout our successes and failures.”

The VanHerk sisters will be once again swimming in the same lane, pushing each other, learning from one another, and ensuring each other’s success as Guelph Gryphons. As the school year inches closer and summer comes to an end, the siblings anxiously anticipate the smell of chlorine and rush of adrenaline as they step up onto the starting blocks once again.

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