At a glance, it’s hard to believe Mount Rainier High School junior Grace Felner doesn’t have webbed fingers and toes.
Felner has been competitively swimming she was since 6 years old. She said at that young age she realized quickly this was a sport she could excel at.
“I’m good at it,” Felner said. “It’s a hard sport to love because the training is so hard. You’re in the water for three hours a day, and lifting on the side. You never get time off.
“What makes it fun is winning, and dropping time. It’s the most motivating thing. Plus, you meet some of your closest friends.”
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Winning is a common experience for Felner.
Entering this weekend’s Class 4A swimming and diving state championships in Federal Way, Felner is the top-seeded swimmer in the 100-yard breaststroke. She has already posted an automatic All-American time of 1 minute, 2.6 seconds this season in that race. Felner is less than a second off of the state record time (1:01.33) set by Gig Harbor’s Carolyn McCann in 2013.
Her seed time entering Friday’s preliminaries is also nearly two seconds faster than Redmond freshman Catherine Yu (1:04.38), who is the No. 2 seed.
“In high school, automatic times, I don’t see that often,” Mount Rainier coach Chris Veraya said.
Felner views her All-American time in a different light. She’s more interested in dropping her time even more.
“I’m more about the times, and beating my own personal best,” she said.
Felner is also the No. 2 seed in the 200 individual medley, and has already swam an All-American consideration time of 2:03.43 this season. She is less than a second behind top-seed Samantha Baron, of Newport of Bellevue, whose state-leading time is 2:02.51.
The feeling of winning is what pulled Felner into the sport several years ago, but now it is something she is used to.
“Winning is pretty amazing. Over the years it was really exciting,” she said. “Now it’s an expectation. If I don’t get it, I beat myself up.”
Her early years of swimming began with natural talent, and she has only improved through the practice she puts in.
Swimming season for school is three months long, five days per week for two hours each day. She is also a member of Bellevue Club swimming, which runs year-round, seven days per week for 2-3 hours each day. That time does not include the lifting she does on the side.
She has around three weeks off of club in August.
“I don’t think she takes those weeks off,” Veraya said.
Veraya said coaching Felner is a joy, as everyday he gets to see a huge talent in the water.
Veraya said Felner is as a perfectionist, and said the track she is on is parallel to former Olympian Ariana Kukors, who placed fifth in the 200-meter IM at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, before retiring the following year.
Both Kukors and Felner grew up in the Greater Seattle Summer Swim League.
Kukors went on to win seven medals, including two gold, and is a former world record holder in the 200 IM.
“Opposite hill, same summer league, same progression. It’s fun to see a swimmer start there, and where they go,” Veraya said. “It’s a whole heroes journey.”
Felner will swim four races Friday and Saturday at King County Aquatic Center, including her two individual races, and legs of Mount Rainier’s 200 and 400 free relays.
The Rams are seeded 10th in the 200 free, and 11th in the 400 free.
Friday’s 4A preliminaries begin at 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s finals begin at 7 p.m.