Elite swimmers toil most of the year through grueling practices, often more than once a day, to compete at the highest level. The dream at the end of all that chlorine has five colored rings.
To reach the collegiate ranks requires years of detailed workouts and coaches who push kids to look beyond daily distractions to their ultimate goal.
Emma Schanz, 17, of Colville, has broken that mold.
For the past five years, Schanz has been swimming in a hotel pool in Colville – the only place in town with an indoor facility. She swims alongside hotel guests, birthday parties and local lap swimmers. Despite that, she’s been named to the USA Swimming National Junior Team and already has achieved Olympic qualifying times in five events.
Oh, and she just accepted a full-ride scholarship to UCLA as one of the top swimming recruits in the nation.
Rick Phillips is Schanz’s trainer and incoming president of the Spokane Waves Aquatic Team. He said Schanz achieved most of her accomplishments on her own.
“I played college ball at Idaho. I’ve done 10 Ironmans,” Phillips said. “That kid would beat me to the gym. She totally bought in. She’s just super, super motivated. I never had to push her. She was like, ‘Give me more.’ She’s a very, very special athlete.”
It started at Benny’s Colville Inn
Schanz started swimming as a young girl during the summers with the Colville Valley Swim Club, which uses the outdoor city pool. She switched to Spokane Area Swimming before settling in with the Spokane Waves Aquatic Team.
She started training full time when she was about 13 with her brother, Dylan, who is on scholarship at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota It’s then she first started swimming at Benny’s Colville Inn.
“It was really hard that first year learning how to do workouts on your own,” she said. “We didn’t know what it took to be a year-round swimmer. I don’t think I could have done it without my brother.”
The Schanz family pays the hotel a monthly fee for unlimited access to the pool, which is wide enough for about three lanes and is 5 yards shorter than a regulation-sized pool.
“I have a coach send me workouts from Spokane … through email,” Schanz said.
While she practices in the mornings and afternoons, the pool is available to hotel guests, as well.
“I get hit by balls. Because it is the only indoor pool in Colville, it attracts a lot of people who come in to swim or hang out to have birthday parties,” she said. “I kind of have to swim along the walls so I don’t hit people.”
In the summers, Schanz lives with her grandmother in Spokane Valley and swims at Whitworth University with the Spokane Waves. She goes home to Colville on the weekends.
In the winter, she reverses that routine, working out at the hotel pool during the week and traveling to swim at Whitworth on the weekends.
A typical day includes an hour swim at the hotel followed by an hour of weightlifting or other dry land workouts before school. She swims for about two hours after school, followed by homework and sleep.
“I spend a lot of time staring at the bottom of the pool,” she said. “It doesn’t allow me to do other things. It’s pretty much been swimming and school for the past five years.”
Colville to Hollywood
This last year, Schanz competed against the nation’s best in meets all over the country.
At the 2013 Speedo Winter Junior National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, she placed in the top eight in both the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke. She also finished in the top 16 in the 200 individual medley and 200 breaststroke.
She eventually made five Olympic qualifying times.
Her exploits didn’t go unnoticed: Schanz said she was contacted by about 130 colleges seeking her swimming talents. She made official visits to Arizona, UCLA and Boise State University before finally settling on the Bruins.
“It’s just such a good school and has such a good nursing school,” she said of UCLA. “I loved the girls there and the team. I just clicked with them.”
She noted, however, “It’s going to be really hard because it is such a prestigious school.”
In April, Schanz will travel to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to work out with the National Junior team. Then she must decide to continue swimming with the Spokane Waves or train with her new college team.
“I’m not really sure if I can make the Olympic team,” she said. “But I definitely want to try to compete in the Olympic trials. I think I’ll do better in an environment with a team and a coach. I’m not sure where it goes after next fall.”
Regardless of the ending, the beginning can be traced to a logging town with one hotel that has a pool.
“I sometimes think, ‘What if I lived in Spokane and got to train with a team every day?’ ” Schanz said. “But what I have to remember is that Colville and the pool kind of shaped me who I am.
“I had to learn a lot of self-dependence and dedication. Sometimes, I hate that pool. But I just remember … I couldn’t swim without it,” she said. “Even though it’s small, it still does the job.”
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