Skimming the surface of greatness: Three young swimmers showcase determination at competitions

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Eydie Sakura
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
The water dispersed into a million tiny bubbles and water droplets when they jumped into the base pool on a sunny summer day. The once calm water disappeared when the three eager teenagers splashed their way through the stillness to make the pool come alive. 

Their easiness and comfort in the water told anyone who was watching that they spent most of their young adult life in the water, training and perfecting their talents on a daily basis. 

Derek Lair, 17; Abbey Allen, 15; and Earl Lara, 16; are competitive swimmers whose parents work for the 341st Missile Wing. They recently returned from the Western Zone Swim Championships in Gresham, Ore., where they competed with five other swimmers from Great Falls to form "Team Montana;" which ultimately had 42 members from across the state. 

Team Montana placed sixth out of 16 teams from the western state region, including Alaska and Hawaii, and they all swam for the prize and the glory to be number one. But before the region-wide competition, the swimmers had to prove their mettle and swim the Montana Long Course Swim Championships in Bozeman, Mont., late July. 

"First we had to make the preliminary times to get into the meet," Mr. Lair said. "Then you have to make your qualifying times for the finals, (ultimately) placing the top eight to compete." 

In his first heat, he said roughly 32 competitors were vying for the top slots to qualify them for the championship meet in Oregon. Mr. Lair said his favorite event is the men's 200-meter individual medley, which consists of four strokes - the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle swim. 

The three juniors attend C.M. Russell High School and countless hours go into their training, yet they said the rewards are well worth the effort. During their summer months, they are involved in swim clubs in town, but during the school year, they compete for their high school, yet still train year-round to keep fit. 

"I like the physical activity and the friends I've made since I started swimming, but I mostly enjoy the two minutes of the race after you spend five months training," Mr. Lair said. "You jump in the pool and have your two minutes of glory." 

The swimmers train three times a week doing weightlifting, switching off between upper body, lower body and core-strength exercises. They also do a lot of running and various cardio workouts. The team members say they're in the pool about six days a week and easily spend four hours a day swimming and training. 

"Normally we mix it up by doing two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon," Ms. Allen said. "It eases up a little in the school year because school's a priority, but we try to balance it out; however, a lot of people don't see that there is a lot of mental preparation too that goes into it and when you want to break down and give up, those are the times that make us the strongest." 

Ms. Allen specializes in swimming the women's 400 and 1,500 freestyle, and says her specialty is in endurance racing, and stresses the importance of having a good attitude while competing. 

"Before I even step up on the blocks, I visualize my race," she said. "I picture it the way I want it to end up. The most important thing about swimming in races is having the mindset of racing and beating your competitors. You have to go into your races with the idea of being positive, optimistic and you have to pump yourself up!" 

The adrenaline rush they get before and after a race keeps the glimmer in their eyes and the thrill of competition in their line of sight. 

"(Competitive swimming) is like getting off a roller coaster," Mr. Lara said. "It's a natural high." 

Mr. Lair agreed and said competition is a rush. His routine is to jump and up and down to loosen his muscles to get himself psyched up, and then he said he gets a form of tunnel vision. 

"You begin to block out the noises and the people, and your heart rate really goes up and your breathing increases and you get really focused," he said. "I begin to shake like crazy and my heart pounds." 

All three swimmers are team captains for their swim clubs and mentor the younger swimmers and lead team warm-ups and stretches. Each athlete hopes to attend college and if it's in the cards, swim their way through college with the help of a swimming scholarship. 

"I'd like to continue (competitive) swimming when I go to college, but if I can't, I'd do it to keep in shape," Mr. Lara said. "I love the competition and swimming has made me competitive. It's a friendly competition though." 

Mr. Lara said his favorite events are the men's 100 and 200 breaststroke and he began swimming about five years ago because his parents wanted a way for him to feel safe in the water. 

"I realized I liked swimming so much that I decided to follow (my older brother's footsteps) and joined competitive swimming," he said. "The competition (in Oregon) was a really good experience, and each time I compete, I think about where I want to finish, and if there's a faster person in my heat; then I want to better my time and not just necessarily win." 

As the summer sun sets along the horizon and the cool breeze of fall sets in, these athletes do not hang up their suits, goggles and swim caps for the season. They keep them close by and continue training, in an effort to hone their skills, better their times and work toward their personal best. 

(Editor's note: Derek Lair is the son of Lt. Col. David Lair, 341st Maintenance Group; Abbey Allen is the daughter of Lt. Col. Mark Allen, 341st Operation Support Squadron; and Earl Lara is the son of Ed Lara, 341st Force Support Squadron).