Swim coach Essi Kenttala remembers when Gracy Whelihan joined the Steamboat Springs swim team. Whelihan was just 6 and struggling with her strokes.
Persistence has paid off for Whelihan. Four years later, at 10, Whelihan has blossomed into a successful, polished swimmer, Kenttala said .
"She has come a long way," Kenttala said. "She looks so smooth in the water."
Whelihan placed in the top six in each of her six individual events at a meet held Friday through Sunday in Craig, taking second in the 50-meter breaststroke and picking up two third-place finishes in the 200-meter individual medley and the 100-meter breaststroke.
Had team scores been kept, Whelihan would have contributed 115 points to Team Lightning.
Whelihan also teamed up with Mallory Richey, Haley Piske and Molly Dierdorff, all 10, to win the girls' 200 medley relay in the 9-to-10 division in 3 minutes, 26.84 seconds.
Whelihan was just one of several Steamboat swimmers to compete individually in all four strokes.
"I just wanted to compete in all four," Whelihan said. "Probably butterfly or breaststroke is my favorite. I just think butterfly is fun."
Butterfly is also the toughest stroke to learn, but Kenttala said she encourages the Steamboat swimmers to try each stroke and then decide in which events they would like to compete. A majority of the swimmers compete in at least two strokes at meets. Many compete in three, leaving butterfly or the backstroke out of the mix.
"We kind of leave it up to them, but we recommend to try as many as they want," Kenttala said. "Some hate butterfly. I haven't gone that way and said they have to because we are a summer club. A lot of times, the kids say, 'I like those three so much I'll do them all.' They hardly say, 'I'll do the 50 free and that's it.'"
Whelihan was just one of 66 Steamboat swimmers who took part in the Craig meet last weekend. Steamboat easily had the largest team at the meet that featured more than 400 swimmers from Colorado and out of state.
"They had really good competition from the Front Range," Kenttala said. "You can tell those kids that swim year-round."
Despite competing against swimmers with more experience, Team Lightning fared well, picking up 20 top finishes and more than 50 top-three finishes.
Cole Worsley, 13, won four individual titles in the 200 individual medley, the 50 freestyle, the 100 freestyle and the 200 freestyle. Worsley dropped more than 12 seconds off his previous best 100 freestyle time, finishing in 1:01.55.
Alyssa Pierson, 15, won three individual titles in the 200 backstroke, the 100 backstroke and the 1,500 freestyle, the longest event of the season for Steamboat's swimmers.
Kenttala said Alyssa and Kelsey Pierson, 13, volunteered to swim the event held on the first day of the three-day meet. Kelsey Pierson finished second.
"It's harder to go long distance when you are a summer club," Kenttala said. "It's good training, but I don't want to make them tired the whole weekend, so that's up to them."
The Piersons showed little signs of fatigue. Alyssa improved her times in each of her events, and Kelsey won the 50 freestyle and was third in the 400 individual medley.
Sierra Weir, 13, also won three individual titles in Craig when she touched the wall first in the 100 butterfly, the 100 backstroke and the 100 breaststroke.
The Craig meet welcomed swimmers in A (the highest), B and C divisions, allowing more athletes to compete at a more equal level. Steamboat took advantage, sending some of its training team members to their first swim meet ever.
Kane Park, 6, won the 50 freestyle and placed second in the 25 breaststroke. Lara Henry, 9, won the 50 freestyle in her division. Mallory Richey, 10, also won the 50 freestyle. Natalie Pearl, 10, won the 100 breaststroke, placed second in the 100 freestyle and was third in the 100 backstroke.
Anna Gale and Meghan Lukens, both 11, won the 50 breaststroke and the 100 backstroke, respectively. Emily Stout, 13, won the 100 freestyle and was second in the 100 backstroke. Mike Lamb, 13, won the 200 individual medley and took third in the 50 freestyle, as well.
Kyle Steitz, 14, rounded out Steamboat's winners with a first-place showing in the 100 butterfly. He also took second in the 50 freestyle and was third in the 200 individual medley.
Steamboat also had a large number of second-place finishers, including Max Lambek, 9, who was second in the 50 freestyle, the 50 breaststroke and the 200 freestyle.
Anissa Corser, 11, was second in the 200 individual medley and the 50 freestyle. Brittany Long, 13, also was second in the 200 individual medley and the 200 freestyle. Garrison Osteen, 9, picked up two second-place results in the 100 breaststroke and the 50 breaststroke.
Cameron Osteen, 12, was second in the 50 freestyle. She placed no lower than eighth in any of her six individual events. Vladan Chase, also 12, was in the top six in five events in Craig, including a second-place finish in the 100 freestyle and a third in the 100 breaststroke, an event in which he took 31.6 seconds off his previous best time.
Nikolas Baden, 6, was second in the 25 freestyle. Cole Henry, 7, was second in the 25 backstroke. Malia Fraioli, 8, was second in the 25 butterfly and third in the 50 freestyle. Molly Dierdorff, 10, was second in the 50 freestyle and third in the 100 freestyle. Taylor Loomis, 10, was second in the 50 backstroke. Anna Gale, 11, took second in the 100 breaststroke. Erica Gale, 13, was second in the same event.
Blake Worsley, 16, finished in the top six in his events, including a second-place showing in the 100 freestyle with an impressive time of 57.96.
Finishing third for Steamboat was Hestia Chase, 16, (100 butterfly, 50 freestyle), Kristy Marshall, 15, (100 breaststroke, 100 freestyle), Michelle Lichtenfels, 13, (100 freestyle), Erik Haines, 12, (50 breaststroke), Molly Newman, 12, (50 butterfly), Emma Lichtenfels, 11, (200 freestyle), Martha Anderson, 10, (50 freestyle), Lexie Baden, 10, (100 breaststroke), Katie Ross, 10, (100 breaststroke),
Penn Lukens, 9, (200 freestyle), Jake Pietig, 9, (50 breaststroke), Evan Weinman, 8, (25 backstroke) and Finn O'Connell, 6, (50 freestyle).
In addition to the individual races, Team Lightning posted impressive finishes in its relays, as well.
The 8-and-under girls 100-medley relay team won in 1:55.87. Team members were Cara Piske, Malia Fraioli, Oliva Rose and Sara Stout, all 8. The same four teamed up to win the girls 100-freestyle relay, as well, in 1:40.90.
The 8-and-under boys 100-freestyle relay team finished first in 2:16.75. Team members were Kane Park, 6, Finn O'Connell, 6, Cole Henry, 7, and Evan Weinman, 8.
The 9 to 10 boys 200-freestyle relay team won in 3:31.25. Team members were Jack Pietig, Max Lambek, Garrison Osteen and Penn Lukens, all 9.
Steamboat also had seven other relay teams place second or third in Craig.
The Steamboat Springs swim team returns to the pool Friday for a three-day meet in Meeker.