Starting in the chilly month of November each year, while most high school students’ alarms have not yet rung, Leesville swimmers like Jack Irby (sophomore) and Sophia Antanaitis (sophomore) strap on their suits and brace themselves for the shrill chillness of the Optimist pool. Each year, this signals the start of swim season, including the exhausting practices at 5:30 a.m. almost every morning.
Despite the early practice, the horrendously painful cramps, and the immense soreness, Leesville swimmers enjoy swimming. “No matter how bad of a day I’m having, if I go to swim practice, even when I don’t want to, I always come out happier because I’m around my fellow team mates. [They] make me happy, and exercising in general makes me happy,” said Sophia Antanaitis, a sophomore at Leesville Road High School.
Besides enjoying the sport, others find it as a great way to stay fit. “I enjoy the fact that it helps me stay in shape, and it helps me stay [focused] on a task, [as well] as building up my endurance,” said Jack Irby, who is a swimmer on the Leesville swim team. Swimming is a sport that not only burns a lot of calories, but it also builds strength and endurance.
The Leesville Swim Team is a diverse team, comprised of swimmers from all different backgrounds. Some started swimming as soon as they started walking, while others started freshman year. Year round swimmers are expected to attend a few practices, as they have practice in the evening as well. Non year rounders are split up into two groups, groups a and b, and attend practice on their corresponding days.
As freshmen, swimmers are drawn to the Leesville swim team because of its prestigious reputation. “I’ve had many friends be on the swim team before me, and I’ve heard there is a very strong cohesiveness within the team, and I’ve only heard only good things about the swimmers and the coaches, which made me want to join,” said Irby. Sophia Antanaitis had been swimming on summer league for ten years, so joining the her high school swim team was the plan from the beginning.
Jack Rodgers, the coach of the swim team, wasn’t expecting anything to do with swimming in his future. “I was sort of thrown into [coaching] a little bit. The swim coach prior to me left pretty late in the season, so it was tough to find anyone,” said Rodgers. Finding a new coach in a small time period was next to impossible because of the lengthy process Wake County went through to find a coach.
Even though Rodgers was seemingly thrown into coaching, he enjoys the kids. “They are probably the best kids in the school. I never have to worry about them academically or about their behavior; they are just great kids. I think what I like most about them is they are so intrinsically motivated, because it takes a certain type of person to practice the way they do,” said Rodgers. Not just any teenager can get up at four in the morning to practice before school, and for Rodgers, their motivation to become better, faster and stronger on their own, makes them special people.
This year marks the fourth year since Rodgers has started coaching. “The first year I coached, we finished 11th in the state, the second year we finished 4th in the state, last year we finished second in the state, so i think everyone is hoping for a state championship,” said Rodgers. Last year, there were only a few seniors, so a good part of the team is coming back for this season.
Coaching, especially with high school kids, can be a very difficult task. “I think the best advice I’ve gotten is to just remember that they are kids,” said Rodgers.
For Rodgers, his focus is on the development of the team, rather than the wins and losses. “We’re just trying to make better citizens. Just teaching kids correlation between life and sport,” said Rodgers.
Losses are a vital part of any athlete’s career. [After a bad race], I try not to think about it too much, because I know I know I have another race coming up that I can help the team with. I just try to keep everyone positive,” said Irby. Antanaitis says you just have to do your best, and if everyone knows that, there really isn’t anything to worry about.
Relationships between coaches and their athletes gives the whole team it’s shape. The best advice Rodgers can give to his athletes is just to have fun. “It’s a job for a lot of these swimmers. It’s an hour practice in the morning, five hour practices in the evening, plus school work, so i think you need to have fun doing it. With any sport, if you’re not having fun, there really isn’t a reason to do it,” said Rodgers.