As Fort Dodge Senior High swimmer Elli Russell, 16, prepared to push off at the start of the 200 yard medley relay event at the Regional Swimming and Diving Meet Saturday, she had an edge over some of her competitors.
It’s not a special suit or a lane full of easier to glide through water.
Instead, it’s combination of hard work, time and experience – before the regular high school season swimming and competing with fellow members of the Ames Cycling and Aquatics Club Fort Dodge satellite team.
“I started in April,” she said. “If you want to be good, you have to swim year-round.”
Under the umbrella of USA Swimming, the team is one of about 20 spread through Iowa.
It is coached in Fort Dodge by Karl Hamouche.
“We provide a team atmosphere,” he said. “We’re about coming together.”
He said that depending on the swimmer’s age, they will work on different skills. For some, it’s technique, others, it might be endurance or speed.
He said that swimming year-round means that when the high school season starts, they’re ready and the do better.
“The top teams, they swim year-round,” he said.
Alyssa Nehring, 17, is in her first year of being a member of the team.
“I worked on a lot of technique,” she said. “It’s nice to have it learned.”
Gretta Leigh, 14, is a freshman this year. She joined the club over the summer.
“I needed something to get up to a high school level,” she said.
Besides becoming a better swimmer and being able to deal effectively with the stress of competition, she’s learned another lesson that Hamouche tries to instill.
“Hard work pays off,” she said.
The head coach of the ACAC, Tim Teeter, also attended the regional competition Saturday.
“I wanted to see how our girls are doing,” he said.
A self-described “recovering lawyer,” he’s been head coach for three years.
He tries to teach more than just swimming.
“It goes beyond swimming,” he said. “It’s a way of life, we’re not just creating swimmers, we’re creating people who will be a success.”
He said it’s a big family.
“I”m raising 200 kids,” he said. “If we have high expectations, they rise to them. If we expect little, they’ll come down to that.”
Participants in the club are as young as 6, he said. By the time an athlete reaches the age where they are eligible for their high school teams, he said, they will already have the experience of competition, the ability to deal with the stress and a high level of skill.
“They’ll be prepared, they’ll go to state, they’ve already been through it,” he said.
He said he hopes his club members continue to swim in college and beyond as well as continuing with the lessons he hopes they learn.
“I hope they pass it on,” he said. “I ask them, how do you want to be remembered.”
Fort Dodge Girls Swimming Assistant Coach Shawn Russell said she sees a lot of benefit to the club.
“It’s a great program,” she said.
She said it makes it easier to build her team with swimmers that already have experience, she said the biggest lesson they come away with from the club is a strong work ethic.
“They already know what to do,” she said. “They come to produce and to work hard.”