Every early morning -- when it hurt to lift his arms from the 79-degree lap pool into the bone-chilling air -- has been worth it for Steamboat Springs senior Blake Worsley.
Inspired by the Olympics and motivated by the chance to swim in college, Worsley opted not to take the fall and winter off. Instead, he decided to swim year-round, increasing his endurance and strength while dropping his times.
Worsley qualified for the prestigious Western Zone Championships and the even more prestigious U.S. Swimming Speedo Championships during a three-day meet at Denver University during the weekend.
Both are regional meets reserved for the top swimmers in the western half of the country. Rarely does a summer-only swimmer qualify for these events.
"I was a little bit surprised," Worsley said. "I have just gotten stronger. ... I've said I was going to swim year-round for the past couple years. This year I just did it. I think the Olympics were pretty inspiring and just the excitement of going to college."
Worsley specializes in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle, and he dropped his times in both during the weekend. Worsley swam the 50 freestyle in 22.69 seconds. His previous best was 23.57. Worsley swam a 49.02 in the 100 freestyle to qualify for the U.S. Swimming Speedo Championships. His previous best time was 51.25.
Worsley qualified for the Western Zone Championships in the 50 free and the 100 butterfly (57.20), the 100 backstroke (58.47) and the 200 freestyle (1:52.27). He also dropped seven seconds in his 200 individual medley, swimming a 2:11.50.
Although Worsley's improved times in the freestyle sprints are impressive, he made his biggest gains in the butterfly and backstroke, two strokes he isn't known for swimming.
"I really haven't even been practicing them," he said.
Patti Worsley, who doubles as her son's coach, said Blake, 17, has taken up a much stricter training regimen, including a new, more healthy diet, and he is reaping the rewards.
"He's driven to do it," she said. "He's so excited about it. Blake has been swimming on his own between 3,000 to 7,000 yards a day. He's pretty much the only one in the pool. I sometimes swim with him, but I can't keep up."
Worsley will continue to train by himself, and his next competition is in early December, he said.
Soon, however, he will be able to train with his teammates on the Moffat County boys swim team. Steamboat Springs doesn't offer the sport, so Worsley travels to Craig daily to swim in their indoor pool.
He called to let them know how the Denver meet went.
"They were really surprised," he said. "I was beating a couple guys in their specialty strokes."