High School Sports

Swimming is a family affair for Olympia High’s Maya Hansen-Tilkens

Olympia High School junior captain Maya Hansen-Tilkens, who has set her sights on qualifying for state in the freestyle sprint events, cruises through the pool at The Evergreen State College in Olympia during swim practice.
Olympia High School junior captain Maya Hansen-Tilkens, who has set her sights on qualifying for state in the freestyle sprint events, cruises through the pool at The Evergreen State College in Olympia during swim practice. Staff photographer

It could have been as embarrassing to answer as it was to ask.

“He wants to know if you’re my biggest fan,” Maya Hansen-Tilkens asked her twin brother Ian, repeating the reporter’s question.

Ian came through, without hesitation: “I most certainly am.”

Just another variation on a theme for the Olympia High School girls swimming team: Family is big.

Maya is a two-time Class 4A state meet participant and a junior captain for the Bears. Along with being his sister’s fan, Ian is also student manager for the team, and, come mid-November, a member of the Olympia boys swim team.

To take the family theme a step further, the twins’ mother, Suzanne Pearson, helps out with the team as a volunteer assistant to head coach Mel Smith. Pearson is a former swimmer for Curtis High School and Seattle University and has coached swimming at River Ridge and North Thurston.

As for her teammates, Hansen-Tilkens said, they might as well be her sisters.

“I think my favorite thing about swimming is the other girls,” she said. “I don’t think I could keep up with the practices and my schoolwork without my teammates. They’re really like my family.”

On Oct. 6, in a 118-62 dual victory over Lakes, Hansen-Tilkens swam on winning 200- (1 minute, 52.39 seconds) and 400-yard (4:15.22) freestyle relay teams. Though primarily a sprinter, she showed off her versatility in winning an event she seldom swims, the 200 individual medley, in 2:27.06.

She competed at state as a freshman and sophomore in both relay events and hopes this year to make it in individual events, too — probably the 50 and 100 free, events in which she has earned district-qualifying times (26.6 and 57.9 respectively).

Smith, who has coached high school for 30 years — his sixth at Olympia — has high praise for Hansen-Tilkens: great attitude, hard worker and a leader.

Smith says being a captain is not a popularity contest at Olympia. Girls interested in the job submit an essay detailing why they want to be a captain and why they’d be good at it. Previous captains are consulted before a selection is made, Smith said.

Hansen-Tilkens applied for the job, she said, “because I’ve had so much experience with swimming I felt like I’d be a good leader. I wanted to be able to help the team grow as a team.”

So they take their captaincies seriously at Olympia. But it’s not all hard labor at practices or meets.

“We sing, we dance, and we’re just weird,” Hansen-Tilkens said. “We know each other really, really well.”

Ian helped out the girls program last year, running the timing system for home meets. This year, he became a manager, along with fellow junior and boys team member Cristian Capestany. The guys’ swimming experience makes them useful with training the younger girl swimmers, Smith said.

“They, as a team, are very accepting,” Ian said. “Me being a swimmer, I’m not just a guy hitting buttons so there’s a lot of ... mutual respect that comes from that.”

The male half of the twins enjoys watching his sister swim, charting her times and personal bests, and letting her know when she gets one.

Ian says he’s “just weird enough” to hang with the girls when the going gets goofy.

“I think he gets along pretty well with the other girls,” Maya said of her twin. “We’re all kind of one big family, and that includes the managers.”

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