Cadee Pierce is only 8, but she has already figured out the secret to being a fast swimmer: Just a bite of something sweet.
Sure, she eats healthy before a meet, “but I’ll eat one little sugary thing before I swim to get me hyper,” she says. “When I get hyper, it makes me go fast.”
Cadee is a Dolphin, one of 119 kids who are members of the community swim team at Davis Lake, a neighborhood in the University City area. Like many members, she’s been swimming since she was 5.
Now that school is out, children across the Carolinas are putting on bathing suits, strapping on goggles and getting ready for weeks of summer league swimming, a rite of passage that teaches confidence in the water and teamwork.
At their first meet of the year this week, the Dolphins hosted the Skybrook Storm. Dolphins wore green and black suits. Storm swimmers wore red, orange and black. Parents sported team colors, too. One Dolphin mother’s shirt read “Eat. Sleep. Swim.” – a description of what life is like for young swimmers during summer league competition.
The Dolphins practice four mornings a week and compete two evenings a week through June. After that, a final week of practice and then it’s off to the big championship meet.
At the Dolphins’ meets, more than 200 kids might be swimming.
“It takes a village to make all this work,” says Julie Dail, a meet director and mother of two Dolphins.
As the youngest children line up for the first race, the 6-and-under freestyle relay, anticipation builds. The kids climb up onto elevated starting blocks, pressing their goggles to make sure they’re tight.
“Take your mark,” says the starter. The kids hunch over, ready to dive in. Then, at the sound of a beep, they jump in feet first, dives forgotten, water splashing up around them. Many dog paddle, trying with all their might to make it to the other end of the pool. Parents and coaches cheer.
Swimming form improves, of course, when the older swimmers race. Carly Pellerin, 17, has been competing with the Dolphins since she was 6. Each summer, she looks forward to seeing swim friends who attend different schools.
“All of us have kind of grown up doing it,” she says.
In the down time between events, Pellerin and her friends return to a waiting area known as the bullpen. Each age group has its own, distinct bullpen. The older kids’ pen is a grassy area full of lounge chairs and even a hammock. It’s here that the swimmers eat, play cards and joke.
Parents, meanwhile, line the deck with camping chairs and share food during the hourslong meet. One woman handed out slices of homemade cake.
Dolphins Head Coach Anna Glodowski, a former Dolphin swimmer herself, says summer league swimming presents a great opportunity for neighborhood children – and parents – to get to know one another.
“It’s a big part of the community,” she said. “Even for the parents it’s a way to come out and see people. A lot of us work our 9-to-5 jobs and then close the garage. You’re busy, you’re tired, but this gets people out.”
The Dolphins lost the meet to the Storm, but Glodowski said she wasn’t concerned about the final score. She focuses more on teamwork and building bonds between her swimmers.
“I always tell them I don’t really care, and this is really true, I really don’t care if they’re fast swimmers,” she says. “I think they need to be good people.”