This weekend, five student swimmers from Haines are diving into a top state competition. The athletes are competing among nearly 500 other swimmers at the Alaska Junior Olympics in Anchorage.
The pool is full of kids, swimming laps and practicing strokes. Three stand at the end of the lanes. Five swimmers hop out of the pool. Wearing swim caps and goggles, they walk barefoot into the lobby.
“It’s the best of the best basically,” says Pacific Ricke. She’s in fourth grade. She’s been swimming since she was six and this is her first year competing in the state’s Junior Olympics. She’ll be hopping into the pool for several races.
Rio Ross-Hirsh is also a long-time swimmer.
“I love it because it works all your muscles and it’s just been always my favorite hobby,” says Ross-Hirsh.
She’s in fifth grade now. She and Ricke are part of a group of five swimmers that qualified for the Anchorage meet.
Jackie St. Clair is one of their coaches. She’s overseeing some younger swimmers at this practice. But, she also works with the older racers – the ones competing this weekend. And, she’s done some swimming in Haines herself.
“I used to be a swimmer, I was a dolphin, I’ve been to [junior Olympics] so I know how exciting it is being up there and what an accomplishment it is to get those times to go up there,” says St. Clair.
For their age group, the Junior Olympics is the highest level race in the state. Jim Green has been working with the team for around eight years. He says it’s been some time since the Dolphins have sent this many athletes to the top race. The other swimmers going are fourth-grader Lucia Chapell.
“It’s fun and it makes me feel really good when I achieve a goal like getting the best time or I qualify for a meet like JOs,” says Chapell.
Emma Dorn is also in fourth grade
“Since I was born in Alaska my mom wanted to put me into the water early,” says Dorn. “So when I started on the swim team I just liked it so I just kept going.”
And fifth grader Leo Wald, who really likes backstroke.
The team has grown up swimming together. It’s clear they’re good friends that support each other, laugh together, and tease each other.
Dorn says they’ve been working hard to prepare for the big meet.
“We’ve been swimming really hard, doing really hard workouts and doing dry lands,” says Dorn.
They sort of groan at the mention of ‘dry lands,’ which they say include excercises like burpees, pushups and sit-ups.
Coach St. Clair says they’ve been doing more than physical training to get ready.
“We’ve just had a lot of talks about teamwork and lifting each other up. And at this point in the season best times don’t matter as much, just going up to JOs is such a big accomplishment. No matter how they do up there we’re going to be totally elated for them,” says St. Clair.
And there’s one thing they do to get pumped up before racing. The group of five all had the same answer about what music they listen to: Seven Nation Army, by the White Stripes.