By Derek Hinz
For The Beachcomber
Members of the Vashon Seals Swim Team found themselves in a welcome position last weekend: back in the pool at an officially sanctioned meet.
A full 16 months have passed since Western Washington swimmers were last allowed to gather at the Daffodil Classic, in March of 2020. Intra-squad and virtual meets have served as a substitute in the interim, but with COVID-19 restrictions easing statewide, athletes are again being permitted back into the water to compete against themselves and other regional swimmers.
On July 10, the United Place Athletic club (UPAC) July Invitational afforded team members, coaches and volunteers a chance to get their feet wet in a three-team clash between the Seals, the Metro Ducks, and the University Place Sharks. The contest also tested the waters of new protocols and safety measures that will likely remain in place through the fall. Spectators were not allowed indoors and teams were required to stage outside of Curtis High School, in Tacoma, while a limited number of referees, timers and coaches ushered in swimmers race by race.
Still, the excitement was palpable when Vashon swimmers Cora Ball, Liam Ball, Martile Parent, Neve DeVoght and Nora Johnson took their first official laps as members of the team. A total of 16 Vashon racers swam 63 races during the three-hour meet, resulting in 46 new best times. Long-time team captain Ethan Choo finished his final meet a perfect four for four in terms of personal bests, including a blistering 56.8-second hundred-meter butterfly. The race marked the first sub-minute butterfly of his career.
The UPAC event came on the heels of other official meets in nearby states, as swimming programs open up more broadly nationwide. Missoula, Montana saw the return of the Firecracker Classic from June 24 to 27. Two Vashon Seals swimmers, Saffron Hinz and Jamie Choo, made the trek to the 26-team meet that hosted more than 600 participants from Montana, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. The Vashon pair made waves in the Olympic-sized 50-meter outdoor pool, where Hinz earned four silver times and six personal bests and Choo tacked on another silver and lowered times in each of the seven races in which he competed.
As with many “large-gathering” events, opportunities continue to be somewhat limited in the swimming community. The Seals meet schedule will remain curtailed through the summer, but optimism remains high as the team looks toward fall events and the return of healthy competition.