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Sunfish swimmer Tracy takes Zone race

Local Sunfish swimmer Jennifer Tracy is making a big splash in the swimming world.

“I just liked playing in the water, so then I just tried out for the sport,” Tracy said of starting to swim competitively three years ago.

Daughter of Jason Tracy, the 10-year-old athlete capped off of a very successful season, qualifying and competing in her first USA Swimming Central Zone Meet, held Aug. 2-4, in Topeka, Kan. 

Sunfish coach Nate Benson expressed that he was confident in Tracy’s ability to qualify for the Minnesota Swimming Zone Team, even before the summer season started.

“This winter when we were doing practices and meets she was getting some Zone times there,” Benson said. “I knew coming into the summer season that she would probably get Zones times in all her events, which she did, so then it was just a point of deciding which events would be the best for her to swim there.”

Entering the summer season, Tracy said her goals were to “just do my best, and try to beat a record.”

She certainly began the summer on a high note, finishing faster than several North Dakota state age group records in her first meet of the season. 

The momentum carried through the following months and Tracy raced in the Minnesota USA Swimming State Meet, finishing in the top eight of all six of her events.

Notably, Tracy took third in the 100-meter butterfly, second in both the 50-meter butterfly and 100-meter freestyle, and first in the 200 meter Freestyle, nearly breaking the record with her time of 2:27.91.

“The biggest challenge for this (the Zone meet) was timing her taper the right way,” Benson said of the training process and extending her taper from the state meet. “Carrying that on for another week was a little bit of a challenge, but it seemed to work.”

The top age-group swimmers from Minnesota came together to compete as a team in the Central Zone, a region comprised of 15 other swimming committees from surrounding states.

When asked to describe her emotions before entering the highly-competitive Zone Meet against some of the fastest national swimmers in her age group, Tracy said she was excited.

Some fun and unique elements were also built into the meet, including some team building exercises and a “Wizard of Oz” theme.

The Zone coaches and athletes were encouraged to wear costumes.

“I dressed up a Dorothy,” she said.

Pinky, her lucky stuffed dog which accompanies her to swim meets, completed the outfit, serving as her Toto.

After a day of practice, the three days of competition kicked off, enough to exhaust even the most experienced athletes.

While Tracy again had an impressive general meet at Zones, finishing in the top eight of each event, it was her 100-meter butterfly which was the most memorable.

“Her 100 fly, I have to say, was a great swim,” Benson said.

He described that Tracy was around a body length behind the leader, with 25 meters left, when she turned her stroke over. Jumping from fifth to first, Tracy finished half of a body length ahead of her competition, earning a personal best time, and a first place medal in her favorite event.

On her thoughts in the pivotal last meters of the race, Tracy reflected, “I said to myself, if I die, I’ll die happy,” as she battled fatigue and poured her energy into the swim.

Addressing Tracy, Benson relied, “…and that’s what we’ve been going for, pushing ourselves a little bit harder to that point where you don’t think you can go any harder, and you did it!”

“I was surprised and happy,” Tracy said of her reaction immediately after winning.

“She’s very positive, which, you know, is a big key of being successful in swimming,” Benson said. “It’s easy to get down on yourself or negative about certain things and Jen’s really good about keeping positive and working hard and realizing the end goal.”

Tracy left the meet with an eighth-place finish in the 200-meter individual medley, fifth in the 100 and 50-meter freestyle races, third in the 200-meter freestyle, second in the 50-meter butterfly, and 200-meter medley relay, and first in each the 100-meter butterfly and 200-meter freestyle relay.

She tied for second place as High Point Champion, receiving honor as one of the top overall competitors at the meet.

Team Minnesota swept a landslide victory for the first time in years, finishing over 2,000 points above Missouri Valley Swimming and Team Wisconsin, the closest two teams.

Reflecting on her experience, Tracy said her favorite part of the Central Zone Meet was “just getting to swim.”

She will be taking two weeks off from swimming, which she said is “nice and not nice, because I like being in the water.”

Though competition at the high school level is a few years away, Tracy already has her eyes on the record board in the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center pool.

Further down the road, “I want to be in the Olympics,” she said of her ultimate goal.

“I would say, I’m extremely proud of Jennifer and how she has swam and dedicated herself to swimming,” Benson said. “It’s such a difficult sport, especially for younger kids to get into because of how hard you have to work, so I’m really proud of her, and I’m really excited to see where she’s going to end up.”

“I think the Olympics are a great goal and very achievable,” he added. “We’ll just have to keep working hard and having fun.”

After her two week break, Tracy will already be back in the pool, training for the upcoming winter season.

Though the season has officially wrapped up for the summer, the Sunfish Swimming program will be up and running again in October.

Benson is pushing to get an even earlier opening date in the future.

“I’m trying to get it to be more toward the beginning of October or end of September, just because as our team is building and focusing more on competition it’s nice to be able to work with a little more time,” he noted,” he said. “An earlier start would also be crucial in preparing the Sunfish to swim against competitive athletes situated in the cities.

With dedication, a genuine love of swimming, and the support of her coaches and teammates, Tracy has a future full of possibility ahead of her, and she goes forward well equipped with the passion to fuel her success.

For details about the local Sunfish Swimming program, contact the DLCCC at 218-844-422, or check out for information about Minnesota Swimming.

Libby Larson | DL Newspapers