Club swimmers going for gold
If Wheaties is the breakfast of champions, then Claremont is the town where they reside.
Three young swimmers from The Claremont Club (TCC) swim team are heading for the US Olympic Team Trials, which will be held June 25 through July 2 in Omaha, Nebraska.
To make the cut for the US Olympic swim team, local swimmers Sonia Wang, 15, Michael Haney, 17, and Noelle Tarazona, 19, will have to qualify as one of the top 2 athletes in the country in at least one event.
Like all who hope to win the gold, there is no doubt the teens have taken a moment to imagine themselves competing in the Olympic games to be held later this summer in London.
Just getting where they are, though, is a remarkable achievement. In order to qualify for Olympic trials, a swimmer must reach a qualifying speed in their chosen event or events. Head TCC swim coach John Ries notes that only one half of one percent of swimmers reach this milestone.
Sonia, a freshman at Upland High School, has done so 4 times over, earning a spot in the trials for the 200 and 400 individual medleys and in the 100 and 200 butterfly races.
“I’ve worked hard for it, so I guess hard work pays off,” she said.
Michael—who just graduated from Bloomington High School with a scholarship that will cover 90 percent of his studies at UC Berkeley—has qualified for the 200 butterfly and 100 freestyle. He achieved the necessary time for the butterfly just this summer, which he said was a happy surprise.
Noelle, who graduated from Claremont High School in 2011, will be participating in the same events as Sonia. This will be her second time at Olympic swim trials; she traveled to Omaha when she was 15, aiming for a slot on the US team that traveled to Beijing.
“It’s very exciting,” she said of the trials. “It’s fun to be at a meet where everyone is so passionate about swimming. It makes for great competition and I really enjoy that.”
Coach Ries, who has worked with all 3 of these standout swimmers since they were small, says you have to be “tough as nails” to get to this level.
Noelle, whom he says is the hardest-working athlete he’s had the opportunity to mentor since he began coaching in 1961, certainly fits this description.
“She’s never missed a workout. To make her miss a workout, you have to tie her up and keep her out of the water,” Coach Ries said. “She doesn’t boast about how good she is. She’s just a good kid.”
If you want to make it in swimming, this kind of dedication is key. This summer, Sonia and Michael have been putting in 10 practices a week, each of them 2 hours. Noelle—who received a full-ride scholarship to UCLA in acknowledgement of her swimming skills—has been practicing 8 times a week, in addition to time spent running, weight training and working on abdominal strength.
At times, the swimmers’ year-round training has required them to make sacrifices: many slumber parties and all-nighters have been missed by these student athletes in deference to the practice that is inevitably held the next morning. Nonetheless, Sonia says she finds time to hang out with friends when she can.
“They understand my schedule. We’ll go to the movies sometimes and hang out and chill.”
The athletes have also bonded with their teammates, both at The Claremont Club and at their respective high schools and colleges.
Michael, who says he really likes watching movies and playing on the computer when he can squeeze it in, shares that he and his fellow TCC swimmers occasionally get together out of the pool to take in a movie or head for the beach.
Such enjoyable moments are crucial, said TCC Coach Tressa Ries (yes, she’s John’s daughter!). At The Claremont Club, they’re well aware that 70 percent of kids quit sports by the time they’re 13. They hope for a different outcome for their swimmers: long careers spanning through college and beyond.
“Our philosophy here is when you’re young, keep it light and fun,” she said, pointing out a group of boys heading to the basketball court before practice. “When you see talent, keep it fun, because you don’t want to lose them to burn out.”
Sonia, Michael and Noelle are still fully committed to their sport, and say they’re truly looking forward to this memorable opportunity.
“I’m excited about all of my races,” Noelle said. “The one I’m looking forward to most is the 200 fly. I’m ranked highest in that event.”