When Mike Kelly put together a year-round option for competitive swimming in Gig Harbor, 18 athletes showed up to the first practice.
Three years later?
“We’re currently over 50.”
That increase of athlete participation represents a continuing trend for the Narrows Swim Club — a competitive team comprised of talented swimmers in the Gig Harbor area. So much so, in fact, that they plan on expanding their practices to a second pool.
Kelly described the team’s growth since their first practice in 2016:
“(The club) was a small group of people that wanted a different option at that time,” Kelly said. We offered that to the community and it has continued to embrace our program, and we continue to grow.”
With high school athletic seasons only lasting months at a time, Kelly set out to provide a year-round program for competitive swimmers. Primarily practicing at Gig Harbor High School during the school year, the team holds summer practice at Peninsula High, where they hope to continue training throughout the fall.
But the club is not only for the more accomplished and decorated athletes. Kelly noted distinct growth from swimmers of all skill levels, including a masters group of those 18 and over.
“We’ve had kids that were adequate swimmers, but by working out with the Narrows Swim Club, they have showed vast improvement and have become important components of the local high school program success as well,” Kelly said. “There’s definitely a positive response to the trainings that the athletes have been receiving from the coaching staff.”
The Club competes in the Pacific Northwest Association of U.S. Swimming and regularly travels throughout Washington and Oregon for meets. The nation’s most notable competitions — including the World Championships in South Korea and the National Championships at Stanford University — concluded just weeks ago.
“(August) is kind of the down month of the year. … Once school starts, things start picking up again,” Kelly said. “We have practices going on right now, but a lot of athletes are using this opportunity to finish off their summer break and get ready to start a new year.”
Kelly not only founded the Narrows Swim Club — he’s a longtime swim coach in the Gig Harbor area. He coached at Peninsula High School from 1993 to 2001 before taking a job at Gig Harbor to coach boys swim, girls swim and girls water polo — a job he still has.
So what’s different between high school athletics and a more competitive club environment?
“There’s actually more similarities than differences,” Kelly said. “Obviously, you have to plan your training program and periodization, meaning what are your big upcoming events and how you approach those. That’s all similar in terms of when to get the athletes to their best performance levels for the meets.”
Despite similarities in training and approach, Kelly did specify a key difference in the outlook of swimmers at the Narrows.
“With the club athletes, they are definitely a little more focused,” Kelly said. “In high school, there’s a big social aspect with being part of a team, and there’s no stress. … With competitive swimming, there’s still a lot of fun, but they’re paying a lot more with personal time. … They’re investing a lot more time and money to be a club swimmer.”
Ultimately, everyone approaches swimming with different expectations. And with the club continuing its growth, Kelly stresses the team’s acceptance of all swimmers as they gear up for next season.
“The Narrows is set up to serve the community in all forms of aquatic endeavors,” Kelly said. “We’ve got the swim club going and the water polo club going, and we’re looking to introduce diving to younger kids. (The club) is open to anyone who is interested in proving themselves in the pool.”