Weather Forecast


Sunfish Swimming Team: Feeding the Lakers

Sunfish members have a little fun with former Sunfish swimmers and current Division I competitors Quillan Oak (Iowa University, third from right) and Melissa Paakh (University of Utah, second from right). SUBMITTED PHOTO

When a team can reload and not rebuild every certain amount of years, it’s a good sign that program is nurturing a healthy and productive feeder system on the youth level.

The Sunfish Swim Team, which is run out of the Detroit Lakes Cultural and Community Center, is starting to churn out that kind of youthful talent and energy, which is directly benefitting the Detroit Lakes Laker boys’ and girls’ swimming squads.

Even though the Sunfish program is over 30 years old, it’s experiencing a resurgence of sorts and the first telltale signs that success is being seen on the 2013 girls’ swimming and diving team.

Out of the 22 Laker girl swimmers, 12 of them have either gone through, or are currently swimming for the Sunfish Swimming club.

From those dozen, four of them are seventh graders who are making a smooth transition to varsity competition from the direct result of competing and training with the Sunfish program during their elementary years.

“I started swimming Sunfish when I was in fourth grade and have done it increasingly each summer,” said Laker junior Grace Livermore, who is one of the top point scorers for DL this season. “It’s really big mentally, because we compete in some big meets with the Sunfish, so by the time I swam varsity, I was confident. Like they say what swimming is all about, it’s 90-percent mental and 10-percent physical.”

It’s that mental aspect which the Sunfish program prepares their swimmers for, which in turn gives valuable confidence to the young competitors.

One Sunfish prodigy who is already excelling as a seventh grader for the Lakers is Syd Gulon, whose mother, Sam, is one of the head coaches for the Sunfish.

Syd Gulon has already qualified for Sections in every event for the Lakers as just a seventh grader, which earns her a spot on the DL Ironwoman Fantastic list.

Gulon was more than ready to jump in varsity competition after she excelled on the Sunfish level, in which she has been competing with since second grade.

“Sunfish prepared me a lot for varsity and I came in with my confidence level pretty high,” Syd Gulon said. “We work on all of our strokes in Sunfish.”

Of course, with Sunfish coaches Nate Benson, Sam Gulon and several of the Laker high school swimmers, refining strokes during a young age is a huge advantage for DL head girls’ coach Carol McCarthy.

Time isn’t spent the first couple of weeks teaching the fundamentals of competitive swimming, but instead seventh and eighth graders come in by hitting the pool with polished strokes.

“These seventh graders who came in were on a different level than most their age,” McCarthy said. “I don’t have to explain the details to them, because they know how to compete. That’s what the Sunfish program works on, good technique.

“I can’t say enough about the Sunfish program.”

Sunfish not just for competitive swimmers

One misnomer which may pop up is that the Sunfish program is for youth who want to learn how to swim competitively.

That’s not the case.

Last fall, the numbers out for Sunfish was one of the highest for quite some time, which numbered at 72.

Of those 72, 34 were registered USA Swimming competitors, while the rest trained and learned in the pool without competing in meets.

“For some kids, it’s a good opportunity to swim and become healthier,” said Sam Gulon. “We provide kids a belonging and a family-type of atmosphere.”

The Sunfish trains kids ages six through 18 years old and all interact with each other.

This past summer, the Sunfish program attracted 48 participants, which is a huge jump from their 12 during the 2012 summer season.

“We are looking for kids who are not fitting in somewhere, because in the pool, everyone counts,” Gulon said.

The Olympic boom is one reason the numbers have reached apex levels, but also the older high school swimmers have been a good inspiration for kids to go out.

Laker swimmers such as Livermore, Maddy Schiller and Peach Arens and DL boys’ swimmers Michael Richter and Jared Olson, have provided role models for the younger generation.

“Having Nate Benson (also a former Laker swimmer) is huge,” Gulon said. “The DL coaches also give us what they want the kids to learn, so by the time they reach varsity age, they know what the expectations are, as well.”

The Laker coaches, which includes boys’ head coach Rian Heimark, have an influence on what the Sunfish swimmer learn, such as each coaches’ philosophy and techniques as turning.

“I also get to pass on my information I learn from USA Swimming coaches clinics to the Sunfish coaches,” McCarthy said. “We are in contact quite a bit and they know what areas we need to work on.”

Another key aspect the Sunfish teaches their swimmers are versatility. They work on every stroke and have almost double the amount of events than high school meets have, which is 12 (including diving).

“The versatility comes from wanting kids to swim all strokes, as well as more opportunities to race during meets,” Gulon said.

A swimmer during USA Swimming events can swim eight individual events in a two-day weekend meet, plus relays.

In high school, a swimmer can compete in only four of the 12 events per meet.

“A Sunfish swimmer will enter the high school program knowing how to swim all eight individual events,” Gulon added. “And that’s no matter if they competed for Sunfish or not.”

That’s proven by Syd Gulon’s accomplishment of qualifying for all eight events for section already.

There isn’t one specialized stroke Syd Gulon excels in, although she is considered one of the team’s top sprinters, despite her also being one of the best in the 500-yard freestyle.

“It’s amazing how much versatile we can be knowing all the strokes,” Syd Gulon said. “Knowing every event makes a team stronger.”

As for Sunfish still being a feeder program, the Laker girls will be having plenty of talent flowing in their pool in the next few years.

“Our third, fourth and fifth grade girls are strong in skill and numbers,” Sam Gulon said. “Again, all are very versatile and capable of swimming any of the four strokes.”

The boys’ team has also been affected by the Sunfish program positively, as well, with several Sunfish championship swimmers coming up the ranks.

But as Gulon points out, competition isn’t for everyone and learning the sport of swimming is good enough to go out for the Sunfish team. Athletes from other sports also go out to cross train, since swimming is one of the best aerobic training sports out there.

“If any kid likes water, they should give it a try,” McCarthy included.

The fall session youth swim team school sign-up is approaching, which run from Oct. 28-Dec. 21. The winter session runs from Jan. 6-Feb. 20.

Practices are up to two days per week, Monday through Thursday, with the parents picking the days.

The Sunfish team season runs from Oct. 21-Feb. 20, with practices two to four days a week (parents pick the days) and price varies based on number of days per week.

Sign up at the DLCCC and register two weeks in advance prior to the start date to avoid a $10 late fee.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.