08/24/08 — These swimmers are Olympic at heart

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These swimmers are Olympic at heart

By Kenneth Fine and Deborah Elliot
Published in News on August 24, 2008 12:19 PM

Tyler Lane licks his goggles. He pulls them down over his eyes. An instant later, he is submerged somewhere near the middle of the three-foot shallow end section of the Goldsboro Family YMCA pool.

He doesn't have much form at all.

It takes him far longer to reach the 50-meter mark than some of his peers on the Gold Sharks Swim Team.

He keeps getting passed, then lapped, as he inches his way along the plastic lane lines -- gasping for a water-logged breath in between each flawed attempt at freestyle.

But don't tell him he is not the next Michael Phelps -- his "hero."

He is only 6 years old.

And in his mind, with every second he spends wet, he is inching closer to his own eight gold medal run.

"I get in the pool every day, even before practice starts," Tyler insists. "I just love to swim."


Tyler's hero might be done winning medals -- for now -- but Sharks head coach Alex Black says Michael Phelps' Olympic achievements and "legendary status" would likely plant the sport more firmly on America's radar.

Children will always love to swim, Black said.

But there is no denying that the Olympics peak their interest.

"The Olympics have definitely helped boost our numbers," he said. "If the sport has taught me anything, it's to expect the unexpected."


On the other end of the pool, Alexis Mitchell gets into her routine.

The 11-year-old walks to the end of the lane.

She puts on her gold swim cap and goggles.

Then, splash.

But Alexis won't start her workout until the coaches pacing back and forth have given her a few pointers.

She, like Tyler, is serious when it comes to swimming.

"I just love the exercise," she says, flexing her biceps, trying to hold back a smile. "I hope to be in the Olympics someday and bring the gold back to Goldsboro."

Black is not surprised when he hears the children set high standards.

He wants them to dream big -- and to achieve the potential.

But being a Shark is about more than butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.

It also teaches young athletes to focus on a goal -- whether personal or team, inside or outside of the pool.

"The Sharks Swim Team's goal is to teach, train and motivate young people to achieve their ultimate potential in swimming," said Head Coach Alex Black. "It even prepares them for success in school and in life."

Brandon Atkins drives from Rocky Mount five days a week in pursuit of his goals.

The 17-year-old wants to swim in college, maybe even Y-Nationals one day.

"I train here because the practices are longer. I get satisfaction when I work hard and push myself," he said. "I always set goals throughout practice, and when I meet them, I feel pretty good."

Spenser Rouse has set some, too.

"When I know I can do better, I aim for a personal best time," the 17-year-old said. "My goal now is Short-Course Nationals."

Black always tries to push his athletes just a little bit further, and teaches them that, sometimes, failure is a part of life.

"Stumbling on the road to one's goals is part of the journey we call life," he said. "Teaching a child how to pick themselves up and carry on might be the biggest reward to be found."


Practice is almost over and Tyler is still trying to finish his first 100 meters.

Alexis is still in her "zone," knowing that a shot at a Phelps-like feat only comes with total focus.

The Olympics might be over, just don't tell the Sharks.

In their minds, four years from now, their name just might be the one drawing a new generation of swimmers off the blocks.

And with the right training, Black is certain at least one of them might be.

"Dedication is nice because it will always produce results," he said. "This is an important lesson I feel our athletes learn."