Golden opportunity

LIHUE — Some of the island’s young swimmers got the chance to learn from an athlete who’s reached the highest peaks in the sport.

About 40 boys and girls took part in a swimming clinic at the YMCA of Kauai, led by three-time Olympic gold medal winner Anthony Ervin.

“I learned a lot of different (things). I definitely was out of my comfort zone,” said Hayley Kaeo, 13, of Kalaheo. “That’s good because we can learn more and adapt, so we can go faster and achieve more.”

Ervin has one gold and one silver medal from the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, and two golds from the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He also has two gold medals from the 2001 World Championships.

For the first hour, Ervin talked about his swimming career, beginning from his youth up until the Olympics in Brazil.

“I think at this age, it’s important to just enjoy the community of swimming,” he said. “I tried to drive it home — my friends got me through the tough times. For me, it isn’t about being the best, but just about your best. There were definitely times I was terrible. And while that doesn’t feel good, it always gets better.”

Following the talk, Ervin led swimmers through warmups, and then drills in the pool.

“First off, it was cold. Very cold. But I feel like I learned some new stuff,” said Zach Safford, 17, of Puhi. “I felt some improvements suggested off the small amount of drills that we did. It was pretty nice.”

Ervin said of working with the kids in the pool: “I thought I got to share a lot of the drills that I’d kind of invented more recently to help me get to where I am — that may be a little bit more appropriate for advanced swimmers. It can hopefully make a little bit more sense to them, and hopefully shake them out of routines they get in. Even for me or anybody at my level, you got to do things differently to advance.”

Safford, who also swims for Kauai High School and hopes to continue on at the collegiate level, said it was his first time attending a clinic like this on Kauai, whereas he’d usually travel elsewhere.

“It’s nice to have it in our own pool, with not more than 100 kids in the water,” he said.

The clinic was hosted by local club Swim Kauai Aquatics. SKA coach Curt Colby said the clinic was set up with the help of mutual friends.

“I just put it out there. And the next thing I know, he said, ‘Well, I’m coming to Kauai. Sure, I’ll do it,’” Colby said.

The SKA coach added of having an Ervin teach some of his students: “It’s great. You can see the interest. I’ve seen him talk before, a couple of years ago, and I felt he was very inspirational. I feel like he knows how to relate to where they are, and to kind of take them to where he is. He shows them like, ‘I was like you. You can be me.’”

For Ervin, this is his first trip to Kauai.

“Beautiful,” he said of the island. “I came here on my own, just for me. I’ve been to Oahu and Maui a couple of times, but never for myself. For other people. This was for me in a lot of ways. It just so happened to coincide with an opportunity to hang out with Curt and his team, and to try to give something back to these young swimmers.”

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