By RANDY TURNER
For The Beachcomber
The Vashon community pool is quickly becoming a hub of activity since its opening in January, and the Vashon Seals Swim Team has taken full advantage of the opportunity to swim in a regulation-length pool with starting blocks. Last winter the Seals had 49 swimmers. Currently, they have grown to 73 island youth ages 5 to 17, and have added two assistant coaches to the roster.
After just three weeks of practice, 17 Seals competed against nine other teams and 386 athletes in the Winter Challenge at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma. In 104 races, the Seals achieved new personal best times in 56 percent of them. It is an impressive tally, considering that these swimmers had only three weeks in the pool since August. They were led by Ben O’Connor, age 12; Julian Suchy, age 10; Saffron Hinz, age 12; and Haley Hopper, age 10. Saffron also achieved her first “gold time standard” (in the 50 backstroke).
After four more weeks of practice, 24 Seals returned to competition against 11 other teams and 469 athletes in the Daffodil Classic. This meet offered a rare treat, a 25 freestyle sprint competition for all ages. Ethan Choo, 14, and Brayden Bernhardt, 7, earned a place on the medal podium with top-six finishes. After completing 145 races, the Seals achieved new best times in 68 percent of them.
This was the highest percentage of new best times from any of the 12 teams, earning the Seals the Team Performance Trophy, also called the most improved team trophy. This is the first team trophy the Seals have brought home from competition. Notable contributions to this trophy were from Reid Alton, 14; Natalie Vickers, 11; Finn Stetson, 10; and Julia Harrington, 13. After an eight-for-eight showing in the last meet, Ben O’Connor went another 10-for-10 in new personal bests!
The pool bubble that the community supported with donations of labor and funds is already having the benefits that coaches knew were possible. The opportunity to train in a regulation-length pool places these swimmers on even footing with other Western Washington teams. The younger group will keep improving their technique and endurance. The senior group will continue swimming eight hours per week and more than 4,000 yards per practice, preparing for the summer championship meets in July.
— Randy Turner is the Seals coach.