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Swimming: An individual workout in a team setting

Thu., June 21, 2012

Witter Pool was awash with swimmers this weekend as hundreds of athletes from around the region gathered to compete in the Summer Solstice Swim Meet.

Colorful beach umbrellas and striped awnings surrounded the pool, and shouts of encouragement echoed as the competitors warmed up for the Saturday afternoon session.

Hosted by Spokane Area Swimming, the event drew 375 swimmers and scores of friends, fans and family members.

In fact, Yoko Roy, said, “The swim team becomes an extended family.”

She should know – three of her four kids are members of SAS.

Her son, Allan, 16, a student at St. George’s School, serves as team captain. “I really like the (swim team) environment,” he said. “Swimming is a real community thing.”

While he competes in several events, he said his favorite is the 200-meter butterfly. “It’s pure endurance and will power,” he said.

Allan also enjoys the challenge of the competition. “I like having someone faster than me in the next lane!”

Susanne Simpson, SAS head coach, stood at the edge of the pool, stopwatch in hand, “Take your mark – go!” she said repeatedly, as team members swam their warm-up laps.

“Swimming is an individual and team sport,” she said. “It builds confidence and helps establish a high work ethic.”

Kevin Wang, head coach of Spokane Waves Aquatic Team, agreed. He said competitive swimmers practice five times a week, but time in the water increases as they excel. “College-bound swimmers spend an average of 4 1/2 hours in the pool, six days a week during the summer.”

It’s a commitment Connor Hickey, 16, knows well. He’s been member of the Waves for more than 10 years and said he’s in the water five hours a day. “I’m athletic and have competed in other sports at a high level, but I gave them up because they interfered with swimming.”

The Mead High School student enjoys the individual aspect of the sport. “Swimming is more about you,” he said. “You can be really good at baseball or football and still lose.”

Wang explained, “It’s a weird balance – a very individual sport in the context of a team.”

Hickey also appreciates the fitness aspect of swimming. “It involves your whole body – every single muscle.”

Indeed, Wang said, “Coordination and core strength are two great benefits of swimming.”

But swimming demands a lot of mental energy as well, Hickey said. “You have to strategize. You have to plan what you’re going to do and not let others distract you.”

As he prepared for his next race, teammate Jacob White was tapped for a relay. He’s been swimming with the Waves since sixth grade. The Northwest Christian student said, “I like being able to make friends from different schools.”

He also hopes swimming will help him get into the U.S. Naval Academy. He just returned from a weeklong visit to Annapolis, Md. “I’m hoping to go fast enough to be in the recruitment range,” he said.

Across the deck, Simpson readied her next group of swimmers. A key member was missing from the Spokane Area Swimming team, she said. Michelle Kazuba, a junior at East Valley High School, was in Bismarck, N.D., at the U.S. Paralympics trials.

Kazuba, who has achondroplasia dwarfism, specializes in the backstroke, but also has competed in freestyle, breaststroke, individual medley and butterfly events. She’s already experienced international competition at the 2010 Junior World Championships in the Czech Republic, and hoped to compete in London this summer in the Paralympic Games.

Alas, it was not to be this time. “I didn’t make the team,” Kazuba said.  “I wasn’t expecting to make it this time – but I’m thinking four years from now, I will.”

 The 17-year-old was a non-swimmer until a few years ago. Now, she can’t get enough pool time. She said, “When I’m in the water everything seems easier.”

Competitive swimming isn’t just for kids or young adults. Simpson said, “An excellent benefit of swimming is that it can truly be a lifelong sport.”

She knows this firsthand. “I’m currently a competitive United States Masters Swimming member. I’ve competed in four World Masters events in New Zealand, Italy, Australia and Stanford and many national championships from Hawaii to Florida. I’ve set long course and short course Masters world records in the 200M butterfly and 200M freestyle events.”

Her personal involvement in competition offers great motivation as she works with kids. She said, “Going to a USMS national competition can be a very inspiring event when you watch a 90-year-old compete.”

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