YOUTH SWIMMING: Dolphins hit the open waters this weekend (6/20)

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By Ryan O'Gara

The E’town Dolphins will take a break from their clear, clean pool at the E’town Swim and Fitness Center and head for much murkier waters this weekend.

The Dolphins will host the Kentucky LSC Open Water Championship on Saturday at Freeman Lake Park, the team’s second straight year hosting. The meet begins at 10 a.m., with the final race getting underway at 12:50 p.m.

Stepping away from the controlled environment in the pool to a lake filled with unknowns — like fish — has led some to shy away from the meet. The prospect of swimming in the lake has created theories, some of them more ridiculous than others.

“I have a friend who isn’t swimming and hasn’t swam in open water because it’s too dirty,” said 14-year-old T.J. Dugan. “It’s always a psychological thing, like is something going to attack me in the water? Like some wildlife maybe.

“That’s the part you have to get through in your first open water, what people always think about. A lot more people (from the Dolphins) are doing it this year, which is a good thing. One person — I won’t say who — said ‘I don’t want to go in there, swallow water, get gonorrhea and die.’ They’re just scared of everything.”

The event has grown moderately from last season, though not as much as Dolphins coach Mavi Sampaio wanted. He attributed that to several other meets around the state being scheduled for the same weekend.

What Sampaio would like to see is more of his team competing, though he can’t blame them for being hesitant. There are 20 Dolphins registered across eight divisions.

“We would like to have all of our team doing it, but it’s not,” Sampaio said. “Not everyone feels comfortable swimming in the lake because it’s a new thing for them. We are pushing to get more kids doing it. This year we have 30 or 40 percent of the team. We are encouraging them to do it because it’s a different thing, a change from our daily routine.”

Those who participated in the meet last year, like 13-year-old Savannah Kingery, are much more prepared than the first-timers.

“Last year I was really scared, especially being my first time,” said Kingery, who finished second in the girls’ 11-12 division. “I don’t swim in lakes a lot, it’s just not my thing. I was afraid of a fish or a turtle. It was just an irrational fear, I guess. I don’t think I will worry about it having done it before.”

There are several adjustments the Dolphins will have to make, like getting used to not having a line at the bottom of the pool and not having to stay in a lane. The beginning of open-water races can get jumbled, and without a lane to keep swimmers moving straight, they must breathe and look ahead instead of to the side.

“You can’t really see anyone around you, so you have to know at what pace you should go,” Kingery said. “It’s hard to see during the race, so you have to have the right mindset.”

The Dolphins don’t ever practice in open water because Sampaio said it’s not their goal to be good at those types of competitions, but he expects the transition to be relatively seamless.

Sampaio wants the team to focus on shorter strokes because of the longer distances than in typical meets.

“It’s not (hard to adjust),” he said. “Usually distance swimmers can also be good open-water swimmers, even though there are little adjustments you have to make with your technique. Sprinters aren’t usually as good because their technique is quite different.”

After finishing third last year in the boys’ 13-14 division, Dugan is looking for an even better finish. Ben Godfrey, who is also 14, should be near the front of the pack with Dugan. Kingery has the best seed time in the girls’ 13-14, with 14-year-old Kaya Winchell and 13-year-old Mary Godfrey not far behind.

Other Dolphins listed in the top three of their respective divisions include 12-year-old Kaitlyn Brandenburg, 11-year-old Madelyn Godfrey, 10-year-olds Helena Dugan and John Michael Hayes and 9-year-old Madeline Meredith.

The 15-and-over group will swim a 4K, the 13-14 division a 3K, the 11-12 a 2K and the 10-and-under a 1K.

“It’s a sport which is growing and will keep going,” Sampaio said. “I’d say it’s interesting for the public because they can see them racing, even though it’s not that fast, but they can see people battling for position so it’s a little different than it is in the pool.”

Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or rogara@thenewsenterprise.com.