If there is a swimming equivalent of a "gym rat" Crescent City Swim Club's Abby Walker would be it.
The 10-year-old fifth grader from Brookings would rather be in the pool than on dry land, practicing the breaststroke in preparation for a meet.
At last month's Sun Oaks Aquatic Racing Meet held in Redding, Walker blew away the competition in her signature events, the 9 to 1-year-old 50-meter and 100-meter breaststroke, winning by more than five seconds in the 50 and seven seconds in the 100. More importantly, Walker's times in the two races have qualified her for the USA Swimming PC Junior Olympic Championships July 11-13 at Independence High School in San Jose.
"I was really happy. Nobody I know on my swim team has qualified for Junior Olympics," said the enthusiastic Walker.
Walker's times of 42.09 in the 50-meter breaststroke beat the qualification time (48.19) by more than six seconds. Her 1:41.66 time in the 100-meter event beat the qualification time (1:43.19) by nearly 1andfrac12; seconds.
The times were not available during the meet, so Abby and her family had no idea she had qualified for the Junior Olympics until the official results were posted online the following day.
"I didn't realize till after the meet," said Abby's mother, Lana Walker. "At the meet we only thought she got her double-A time so when they posted her time and she got first place in her division that's as high as we thought it would go. When we looked at the national database we scanned down and saw she hit her triple-A time. I thought, "Where does that put her in our zone?" When I looked at the zone and she qualified for Junior Olympics I was just really, really excited for her."
Lana then waited for Abby to get home from school to tell her the good news.
"She told me after school, "Abby you just qualified for the Junior Olympics," and I said, "Oh my gosh." I was really happy and laughing and was really shocked," said Abby. "I thought, 'Jeez this is cool'. This is something that I could tell my friends."
At the Junior Olympics, Abby will compete against the best swimmers in USA Swimming's Pacific Swimming Zone 3, which includes San Francisco, Stockton and Lake Tahoe to name a few. Walker looks forward to the elevated competition she will see at the JO's but also looks forward to the experience as a whole.
"I'm looking forward to see who I'm racing against. I bet they're really fast because they're in the JO. I'm really excited to see what this meet looks like," said Walker.
To get to this point Walker has had to put in many hard hours of work at the pool. She swims an average of 2 miles during a 1-1/2 hour practice session and trains at the swim club up to four times a week when preparing for an upcoming meet. Walker also attended a Nike Swim Camp at Oregon State University, where she spent up to six hours a day in the pool and studied film with Olympic caliber coaches.
"She wants to be in the pool and likes to be in the pool," said Mark Tatara, one of the volunteer coaches at the CC Swim Club who has previously coached three other Junior Olympians. "I'm very impressed with her. She's improved greatly over this past year. Abby's extremely dedicated and loves to swim. For someone to learn as much as she has so that she can reach her goals is outstanding. It speaks highly for the ability of the athletes in a smaller town."
Tartara, who works as a Commanding Officer on a Coast Guard cutter ship in Crescent City, says that working with Abby came naturally.
"I was a breaststroker myself, that was my specialty. So it worked well with her and I together," said Tartara, who swam competitively for 13 years and also played water polo. "Once we got the stroke down we started working on her starts and her turns. That's where you shave off time."
"He really helped me with my stroke and how I do my open turn. I didn't really know how to do that," said Walker regarding how Tartara has helped her get the the next level. "He would stand there and just say, "Again, again, again," and when I would get it he would say "Yes!". He would give me so much pride."
Pride is what Abby has given to her family and coaches.
"How could you not be proud," said Lana. "She's worked incredibly hard at it. It's her favorite stroke and she's been working hard to try to trim quarter-seconds, half-seconds and second off of her time."
"When Abby came up at practice and told me she had a JO time, I was extremely happy and impressed," said Tartara. I thought, "Well now we had some more work to do," and she was happy to do it."
It's that dedication and work-ethic that has Tartara deeming Abby as more than just your typical swimmer.
"Stars don't have to come from big cities, they can come from anywhere," he said.