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It is not every day Gabriel Swardson is left behind in a swimming pool. Then again, over the weekend he wasn't participating in just any swim meet.
The 16-year-old sophomore was the only Fort Wayne area swimmer to make it to USA Swimming's Speedo Winter Junior National Championships. The event is open to United States swimmers under 18 who make the cutoff times, and it took place Thursday-Saturday at the Greensboro Aquatic Center in North Carolina.
In his first appearance at this level Swardson competed in three events. He finished 42nd in the 200 butterfly, 83rd in the 100 butterfly and 148th in the 200 individual medley based on his swims in the preliminaries. He did not qualify for any finals.
While Swardson has been one of the best in the area and state competing for Fort Wayne Aquatics and Snider High School, the event showed him there are plenty of swimmers who can outdo him.
“I'm not a stranger to not winning, but seeing so many people so far ahead of me, it was kind of, I just kind of laughed at it,” Swardson said. “I was definitely very humbled by the experience, but just being there and watching all the records being broken, it was definitely
very, very cool.”
He may not have sniffed a top place, but just qualifying for the event was great to him. The qualifying times are extremely challenging to make, and he was on the younger end in age for the competitors he said. He was excited just to find out he made the event, but now that he's been there he is coming back to Fort Wayne even more focused to
“I feel so motivated to work harder and definitely prepare for the (high school) state meet at the end of the year,” Swardson said. “It's interesting how much more motivation I've gotten from it, just really mentally preparing myself.”
The event also provided a couple of new experiences for him beyond an elite talent level. As the only area swimmer he was alone and had to learn how to cope without having friends or teammates around.
“It was kind of isolating,” Swardson said. “It was kind of different to be at the meet and just kind of sitting there on your own, kind of isolated from everybody else. Have to figure out how to motivate yourself and maybe calm yourself down, so I think that was a fun
Being on his own wasn't the only change for him at the meet. Swardson said he normally just tries to “go blank” while swimming in meets, but this one had something he wouldn't be opposed to having around all the time.
“At this pool, they threw something at me I wasn't used to – they had underwater speakers,” he said. “You could hear music underwater, so I was focusing on that for a lot of the swim.”
Now, he is just focused on taking the experience and motivation he gained as he attempts to reach his goals for this high school season. Last year he qualified for state in four events but didn't finish in the top eight in any of them. This is something he hopes to improve
upon this season.
“My preparation for the end of the season this year is definitely to be training a little bit harder than I did last year and training a little bit smarter,” he said. “We've been working on techniques and strokes a little bit more, and my goals are that I hope to make it to
state again as No. 1, and if I do, I would definitely hope to make it into the top eight.”
For Swardson, top eight sounds a lot more normal.