Olympic hopeful talks to campers

June 25, 2004|JILL ERWIN

Those at the Centre College Swim Camp clustered around 15-year-old swimmer Elaine Breeden on Thursday as she held the permanent marker. Some of the children turned for her to sign wet t-shirts, some had plastic passes, some wanted her to autograph their swim bags. But they all wanted her to sign something.

It was somewhat surreal for Breeden. However, it's something she might have to get used to because in less than two weeks she'll be trying out for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

"I love meeting the younger swimmers and remembering how much fun I had at that age when I came to these camps," said Breeden, a 15-year-old from Lexington who spoke and put on a clinic here Thursday. "It's kind of weird to think that all these little kids are looking up to me the way I used to look up to the swimmers I still idolize."


Breeden heads to Long Beach, Calif., July 3 where she will compete in three events in the U.S. Olympic Trials. She is swimming in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly and also the 200 individual medley. She also qualified for the 400 IM, but it is being held the same day as the 100 butterfly, and she's passing on the opportunity.

She said her best chance to make the Olympic team is the 200 butterfly. She's seeded sixth, and the top two finishers in each event earn a trip to Athens for the Summer Olympics.

"Obviously you have to get in the top two, and it's going to be a really close race," Breeden said. "People are saying it's kind of a wide-open race. There are several girls that go a couple seconds faster than I do, but I'm hoping to drop some time."

She found time in her training to speak to the 41 swimmers at Centre's camp. She swims with former Boyle swimmer Ben McDonald on the Wildcat Aquatics team, and McDonald is volunteering at this week's camp. He asked Breeden if she would speak to the campers.

"I said I'd love to," Breeden said. "I love working with kids, and I think I need to put my swimming to good use other than just for myself."

"It was fun to watch her swim," said Maddy Aumiller, who goes to Woodlawn Elementary, after Breeden's butterfly stroke exhibition.

Centre coach Dean Brownley said Breeden's exhibition was the perfect opportunity to show the campers what the staff had been telling them about proper form.

"I wanted the kids to see an elite-level swimmer," Brownley said. "Everything from Elaine's pushoff to her strokes, every detail was perfect. It made it so easy to coach from the side because every detail was so neat and so tidy."

Some in the high school group were older than Breeden, and when she told the campers her age, it definitely got their attention.

"It is kind of inspiring, because she is actually pretty young," said Kyla Schneiders of Boyle County. "It's amazing because I'm about to turn 15 and to have somebody my age going to the Olympic trials is pretty neat to see. It makes me want to be a better swimmer."

"It was impressive," Danville's Jacob Reynolds said. "Once she said she was 15, I was like 'Whoa.'"

Breeden shared many stories and answered all sorts of questions during her talk. She spoke of the first time she met Olympic medalist Jenny Thompson, whom she had grown up admiring. She told how she once spent an entire swim meet sitting next to Lenny Krayzelburg, another Olympic medalist. And the fact Breeden saw recognition on the faces of the swimmers when she told these stories let her know things had changed from when she was younger.

"When I was six I had no idea who the top swimmers were," Breeden said. "Over the last couple of years, swimming has become a bigger deal. Little kids know who Michael Phelps is and who Jenny Thompson is. It's nice to know they have something in common, because we can all talk about someone we know."

Danville's Katherine Becker said it was inspiring to see Breeden have so much success.

"It was quite exciting," Becker said. "Even though she's younger than me and way faster than me, it's good to see someone from Kentucky on the national level competing for a spot in the Olympics."

That's the lesson Brownley hopes everyone leaves the camp with.

"I wanted them to have awareness that we have some Olympic-type swimmers in the area," Brownley said. "When you think of Olympic swimmers, you think of California, Florida or Texas. I wanted them to know that we do have very, very good swimmers in this state."

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