Like many of us around the country, Jacob Richard of Gastonia has watched with amazement the exploits of Michael Phelps and the rest of the U.S. Olympic swim team.
But the rising eighth-grader at Grier Middle School also has dreams, since he is a competitive swimmer for the Gaston Gators, the only year-round competitive swimming organization in either Gaston or Lincoln county.
“I'd like to get to the Olympics someday,” Richard said, “and watching them makes me want to practice every day.”
That is news that Gators head coach Greg Armstrong loves. Armstrong has been with the Gators for the past 21 years, and last season had 105 kids, the second-most in his time with the club.
Armstrong had several Gators post outstanding results during the 2007-08 season. Among those was Jacob, who was ranked in the top five in North Carolina. He achieved one of the top 10 times in three breaststroke events (the 50, 100 and 200-meters).
“Jacob is an intellectual swimmer,” Armstrong said. “I can tell him to watch how certain swimmers do things and he can take that and adapt it to his swimming.”
Tucker Rednour, now 13, was the top-ranked swimmer in the 50 and 100 meter breaststroke in the 11-12 division. Ben Scruggs, 14, who did not qualify for any state meets last year, swam seven events (more than any other Gator) at this year's N.C. Swimming state meet.
On the girls side, Cassie Adams was the top-ranked 10-and-under swimmer during the short course season, winning the 100-meter breaststroke, finishing second in the 50 and third in the 50-meter butterfly, 100-meter individual medley and 200-meter individual medley at the state short course meet in Cary.
“Cassie is one of those that can look at her competition, no matter how strong they are, and compete with anyone,” Armstrong said.
With the competitive season slowed down, the Gators and Armstrong have relaxed a bit, enjoying the Olympics. But watching the best in the world compete, even on television, gives the coach a chance to teach.
“I try to have the kids focus on a couple things when they watch the Olympics, such as how clean the swimmers enter the water, or how they do not take a breath immediately after making a turn.”
The Gators are getting ready to start the 2008-09 season, which begins Aug. 25 with a two-week free trial for anyone interested in trying out for the team. And for those who think they might want to try out but aren't sure, Jacob might be the team's best salesman. “The coaches are the best part of the team for me. Greg pushes us hard, but he also motivates us so we want to get better.”
To learn more about the Gators, contact Greg Armstrong at www.gastonga firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-864-4899.