Different strokes equal big gains for swimmers

POULSBO — In a sport where a single breath — or a single half-second — can mean the difference between winning and losing, the North Kitsap swimming team has been working to reduce both. The team has seen a bumper crop of best times this year, often achieving 20 or more best marks in a single meet. Already the team has qualified one competitor, Jacklene Salwei, for state. And while Greg Braun is proud of that achievement, he is also proud of the way every swimmer has improved. “A lot of these kids swim differently now than they did at the beginning of the year,” Braun said. “Those who are swimming for the first time are starting to look like serious swimmers.”

POULSBO — In a sport where a single breath — or a single half-second — can mean the difference between winning and losing, the North Kitsap swimming team has been working to reduce both.

The team has seen a bumper crop of best times this year, often achieving 20 or more best marks in a single meet. Already the team has qualified one competitor, Jacklene Salwei, for state. And while Greg Braun is proud of that achievement, he is also proud of the way every swimmer has improved.

“A lot of these kids swim differently now than they did at the beginning of the year,” Braun said. “Those who are swimming for the first time are starting to look like serious swimmers.”

According to Braun and the swimmers he works with, that improvement has come with practice on the fundamentals.

“Body position in the water, balance in the water … all of those skills have made a huge difference,” Braun said.

A typical practice is filled with drills, some timed and some not, and lessons in subtleties such as holding your head just so; keeping your body balanced in the water; or using longer arm strokes.

Swimmer Aimee Oien said the lessons have helped her and the rest of the teams improve.

“When we started the season, we worked a lot on balance,” said Oien, a junior. “We did a lot of drills.”

So Oien spent time in the water practicing keeping her head balanced and her back straight. The difference has shown, with Oien shaving about 40 seconds off her 500 time.

“It’s helped me a lot,” said Oien, who now hopes to get to eight minutes flat in the 500 and shave another three seconds off her backstroke time. “It’s been helping me go through the water easier.”

Lately the team has been working on their breathing.

Many swimmers, Braun said, feel as if they have to take a breath every time they sweep their arm. Those breaths can disrupt a swimmers’ head movement and make them slow down. So the swimmers have been working on reducing their breaths as they slice their way across the water.

“We’re trying to get them used to different breathing patterns,” Braun said. “Sometimes you have to take them out of their comfort zone and push them to go a little farther.”

So far, with more than 100 best times racked up by the team, the swimmers seem to be meeting the challenge.

“If you get 20 best times every meet, you’re doing good,” said Braun.

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