Nine months of serious swimming has paid off for 10 of Homer’s best swimmers who leave next weekend for Anchorage to compete in the biggest swimming meet in the state, Junior Olympics at Bartlett High School.
“We start in September and go until April. It’s at least three hours of swim practice five days a week and even more during the high school season,” said 14-year-old Lauren Kuhns.
Kuhns will be a freshman at Homer High next year, and as a fourth-year JO veteran going into the 2013 Junior Olympics, she already knows what it takes to be competitive.
Homer High juniors and twins, Mark and James Nagle, have been competing at JOs so many times they can’t remember how many years it’s been.
“This is our third, or maybe fourth time at JOs,” said Mark. “It’s a very long meet.”
Mark hopes to get a few best times in his freestyle heats, whereas James’ main focus is the butterfly. Though the two claim different strokes as their favorite, swimming doesn’t escape the brotherly-love competition.
“We have some rivalry in the 50 free. Up until a few weeks ago I had the better time in the 50 free and Mark kept on saying ‘I’m going to beat you in the 50 free.’ Finally he did, so he’s happy now, but I plan on beating him soon,” said James.
Fellow Nagle, 14-year-old Remi Nagle, will be going to JOs for the first time.
“I’m excited. I’ve been doing a lot of sprinting and hardcore workouts in the water,” said Remi.
Fellow JO greenhorns are Griffin Downey, Theodore Castellani and Emmett Wilkinson.
Downey has been swimming recreationally in Montana for the past five years. This is his first year in Homer.
“Coming from Montana, I didn’t know what to expect. In my first year of competitive swimming I made it to JOs and that is pretty cool,” said Downey.
Castellani was excited to find out that he qualified for JOs. “Earlier in the season I never thought I would qualify, but here I am now,” said Castellani.
To qualify for JOs, swimmers must meet the times of the Junior Olympics Time Standards. The times differentiate between stroke, meters and age group. These times are posted early in the season giving the swimmers a goal to reach.
Clayton Arndt and Leo Castellani are returning veterans to this year’s JOs, and 14-year-old Castellani is already feeling the pressure.
“It’s going to be tougher for me this year. I’m in a higher age group, which means faster swimmers,” said Castellani. “I’ve been coaching little kids and going to dry land practicing to get better.”
Homer High freshman Cyrus Cowan, on the other hand, will focus on his personal goals at the meet.
“It doesn’t matter if I win or lose. I just hope to get best times in all my events,” said Cowan.
These swimmers practice in the Kate Kuhns Aquatic Center where high school swim records are permanently displayed. They spend all season staring at those times, giving them motivation to one day get their name engraved on the board.
For a few on the JO team, that goal gets closer with every new timed trial and JOs is another chance to try.
Homer High junior Mark Nagle is already close to breaking his signature event, the 500 free, and Lauren Kuhns, sister of Kate Kuhns of the Kate Kuhns Aquatic Center, is following in her sibling’s swimming footsteps.
Kuhns said, “Next year I will be a freshman in high school and I am already close to breaking a few of those high school records.”
Clockwise from top left: Remi Nagle, Theodore Castellani, Lauren Kuhns, Leo Castellani, Mark Nagle, Cyrus Cowan, James Nagle, Griffin Downey. Not pictured: Clayton Ardnt, Emmett Wilkinson.