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Monica and Miriam Smith didn’t realize how serious swimming was until they arrived at Fort Knox.
The sisters had spent the past four years in Seoul, swimming on a developmental team which had around 80 swimmers and a more laid-back atmosphere.
Then, second-year coach Jonas Sosa showed them what it was like to really work. They went from practicing three days a week and swimming around 1,000 yards a day in Seoul to going five days a week and 4,000 yards a day – not including meets – at Fort Knox.
“I’ve always liked swimming. OK, and then I got here,” said the 15-year-old Monica, giggling as she looked at her coach. “Swim team is the best thing that happened here. The only reason I don’t want to leave this place is because of my friends and coach and swim team.”
That’s the type of impact Sosa and the Lady Eagles have made on the Smiths.
Sophomore Monica and eighth-grader Miriam are military children, who have lived in three cities in the last eight years – going from Carlisle, Penn., to Seoul, to Fort Knox this past July.
Coming from Seoul, the capital of and largest city in South Korea with 10-plus million people, they experienced a little culture shock in Kentucky.
It was less crowded. Schools were smaller. Buildings weren’t nearly as tall.
“Coming here, it’s just we’re in the middle of nowhere. It was crazy,” Monica said. “It took a long time to get used to it. I’m still not used to it.”
Swimming was their main constant.
While Miriam started with the Lady Eagles’ developmental team in August, Monica didn’t join the swim team full-time until mid-October. Monica was just going to be a cheerleader, but her dad, Ronald, told her she needed another sport.
So she returned to the water.
But Monica was a couple of months behind everybody else. Her confidence was shaky and Sosa could tell. He challenged her in the Nov. 24 Dare to Care Invitational at Louisville Sacred Heart, putting her in the 100-yard butterfly. She finished in 1:16 – only six seconds behind the school record. When Monica finished, she was stunned – nodding at Sosa and telling him ‘it wasn’t that bad.’
“Coach put me in the 100 fly and I was really, really nervous and than I swam it and I saw my time and it was eight seconds off the school record. Ish,” said Monica, who still remembers the day of the meet and acknowledged that’s why she chose butterfly as her specialty. “And I was like, ‘I can get that record.’ And I’ve wanted it ever since.”
She’s 1-of-6 Fort Knox swimmers who have a shot at eclipsing that school record, Sosa said. And he thinks all of them could do it – especially after Monica’s performance at the Jan. 12 Collegiate Distance Invitational at the Marty T. Meagher Aquatic Center in Louisville. She finished in seventh place (2:47.40) in the 200 fly.
“We went to that distance meet and when she swam the 200 fly I told her ‘just blow it out the first 100. I want to see what your 100 split is.’ She still went 1:16 and still had another 100 to go and had plenty left in the tank,” Sosa said. “She’s not tapered, she’s not shaved, just coming off of Christmas training, so the possibilities, I mean when we go to regions, it’s going to be unreal some of these times these kids are going to put up – Monica especially.”
Miriam is a bit of a different story.
When she first came to practice, Sosa didn’t see her competitive edge. At all. He’d tell her to do practice swims and she’d sigh and slump her shoulders. Sosa even told their mom he wasn’t sure Miriam even wanted to swim.
Then came the Nov. 17 Elizabethtown Invitational.
“There was somebody that was next to her and her posture – she was insulted that somebody was actually swimming next to her and there was no way that that person was going to beat her,” Sosa said. “At that point, I said ‘OK, now I see.’ Because mom kept saying, ‘It’s all right, she wants to swim. She’s competitive coach. She’s there.’”
A freestyle sprinter, Miriam recorded two top-five finishes in that meet, swimming on the Lady Eagles’ third-place 200 free relay (2:02.24) with sophomores Emily Kiphuth, Katie Peterson and Maria Rogers and finishing finish in the 200 individual medley (2:50.07).
She’s also won the 50-yard butterfly (31.93 seconds), defeating Elizabethtown sophomore Emileigh McKee by 1.86 seconds, in the Patton Invitational and taken the 200 IM (2:46.10) and 500 free (6:43.84) in a Jan. 5dual meet against Louisville Whitefield.
But Miriam admits she actually likes relays over individual events. She smiles immediately when talking about relays. They bring out her best.
“I’m competitive. I like the competition aspect and I also like the whole you have a team that you actually support and stuff. Cause at our old swim team, it was so big that you hardly knew anyone and you didn’t have much of a reason to swim super hard,” Miriam said. “I actually would swim harder for a relay than for my own event because I have a reason to go because I’m like, ‘Can’t let everyone down, I’ve gotta go as hard as I can.’”
Monica likes them, too, but because of the team aspect.
“You build a little mini team in your team when you do a relay. Your relay is your team,” Monica said. “And you’re so supportive of each other. I love going out there and doing our best and knowing that we did our best.”
Sosa loves putting them in relays – sometimes separate, sometimes together. He knows Miriam will answer the call wherever he puts her.
“When she has somebody swimming next to her, she gets mad. And she will not be beat,” Sosa said. “That’s why she likes the relays. It’s because whether I’ve got her leading off, anchoring or burying her in the third spot, it doesn’t matter where – she’s going. And if we’re behind, she doesn’t like it, doesn’t like it at all.”
John Grothcan be reached at (270) 505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org