FAIRMONT — Every tenth, even every hundredth of a second is absolutely vital, an instant of time that is so teensy in length, but grand in scale.
It’s this fraction of a second that is the stimulus for every action and every thought. Yet, these tiny snippets of time are viewed through the prism of years.
The enigma is a fitting representation of the complexity of the world’s supposed fourth dimension, and it’s also an encapsulation of the struggle in the sport of swimming.
“Swimming, it’s a brutal sport. I’ve swam for about 18 years of my life, and it’s not always the most fun sport. There are definitely some long days, some long weeks, some long seasons,” said Michael Walker, head coach of the Fairmont Area Swim Team.
“I think the most important thing that I’ve tried to convey to these kids is the success you’re going to have in swimming is never instant. It’s going to be delayed success and a lot of hard work to get the results you want. It’s definitely not a sport for that instant gratification of showing up a couple of times and all of a sudden being better.
“If you don’t find at least some kind of enjoyment or keep the focus of your goals in the long run, you can get burnt out pretty easily in this sport, because it’s a lot of grinding and a lot of hard work that goes into some very short moments of success.
“I think that’s a very important lesson for these kids to learn, and I think that will serve them not only in swimming, but in many areas of life.”
Dedication is a necessity, not an option, to achieve in the sport, and at FAST, a year-round competitive swim team that started in 1997, the commitment is illustrated a practice schedule that is both unwavering and unrelenting. The team practices twice a day five days a week and also has a Wednesday morning practice, making Sunday the only off day for the swimmers. Practices start literally before the crack of dawn with the team’s morning practices beginning at 5:30 a.m., while its afternoon sessions begin at 3 p.m.
“Not a whole of lot of kids are raring to get up at 5 a.m. for practice, but these kids have done it all summer. To be practicing 10 times a week and getting up so early, I’m just in awe,” FAST President Crystal Bennington said. “They’ve pretty much given up their whole summer.”
As fulfilling as the life lesson of pledging oneself to a steadfast commitment might be, incessant practices can become a career death knell without the possibility of a payoff.
Enter Walker, whose own swimming career combined with his coaching acumen, which includes training Olympic gold medalists and world-record holders, breeds confidence and assuredness in his swimmers over the long haul.
“I think they trust coach Michael. They know that he has the tools to give them what they need to succeed in the water,” Bennington said.
“It’s not going to be easy, but I think he’s talked them through it. They’re not just in the water; they’re doing dry land (workouts), mental preparation. He has them watching videos. There is a lot of stuff that goes into swimming. I think because he’s developed a relationship with them, he can be trusted, but he also expects a lot from them, and they’ve risen to the occasion. I’m impressed because this is something entirely new for this crew.”
Accompanying Walker, who is about to start his second season as FAST’s coach, as another stimulus for FAST swimmers is a slew of recent accolades collected by the team’s polished members at the West Virginia Long Course State Meet Championships in Beckley July 14-16.
In total, three FAST swimmers earned state titles as the high-point swimmers for their respective age groups, while three more earned runner-up.
Claire Ciemania took the girls 8-and-under crown, while Tred Bennington was the boys 8-and-under state champ. Rising Fairmont Senior High School junior swimmer Adrianna Abruzzino, who won a pair of state championships during the high school season, snatched another in Beckley as the high-point winner in the girls 15-and-over division. Jared Broadhurst in the 8-and-under boys, Grant Broadhurst in the 11-12 boys and Alexandre Quintao in the 15-and-over boys all earned state runner-ups. As an entire team, FAST also finished as the state runner-up out of the 12 competing teams, scoring 416 points.
As FAST’s summer practices trudge on, six swimmers are preparing for another competition, this one being the Southern Zone Championship Meet in Tupelo, Mississippi, Aug. 1-5, where each qualified for a spot on the West Virginia State Zone Team. Abruzzino and Sarah Stallman will represent FAST on the girls 15-and-over state squad, while Court Ciemania will swim for the boys 15-and-over team. Mia Abruzzino and Ella Broadhurst each qualified for roster spots in the 13-14 girls division, while Grant Broadhurst will be FAST’s youngest representative on the boys 11-12 state team.
“A lot of them grew up in swimming and started out with either lessons or summer league and eventually wanted to do it year round,” Walker said. “We have a lot of different beginnings with a lot of these kids, but right now we have a good group of kids, who are very dedicated to the sport and really taking it seriously.”
However, FAST is a program that revolves around all swimmers, not just the sport’s most astute pupils. In fact, Bennington, who is starting her second season at the organization’s president, has unfurled a campaign in tandem with Walker advocating for more novices to give the FAST program a look.
“The biggest thing is that we wanted to expose a lot of kids to swimming,” she said. “We want to make sure we develop a program that includes everybody because not everybody wants to swim competitively, but everybody should learn to be safe in the water. And what we found is a lot of our swimmers who come here as learn-to-swim participants end up falling in love with the program and then they move up into our other groups.”
Bennington has ramped up the program’s social media usage as a complement to the word-of-mouth of FAST’s current swimmers in an effort to attract more potential members. She said she’s also working to get Walker and the rest of the coaching staffs into local schools in the fall as an in-person pitch for FAST’s benefits.
Anyone interested in joining FAST at the current time can register for the fall short course swim season starting Aug. 1 online at fastwv.com.
Email Bradley Heltzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@bradheltzTWV.