WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
PEMBROKE PINES—Tyla Martin wrapped a bright orange and pink towel around her and stared intently at her lane as she sat behind the starting block waiting for her next race.
With talent and poise, the bubbly 12-year-old is focused on moving up the swimming ladder.
After only four years in competitive swimming, her progress has been remarkable. The South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer is still cloudwalking after dominating last month’s CARIFTA Swimming Championships in Jamaica.
Representing Trinidad and Tobago in her first major international meet, the national record holder carved out a place in history with nine individual gold, three relay gold and silver medals. She broke her own national records, earned the 11-12 high point award and led Trinidad and Tobago to the team title.
Martin returned to South Florida motivated more than ever for the next step in what promises to be an outstanding future.
On Sunday, under the watchful eye of six-time Olympic coach Michael Lohberg, Martin won the 50-meter backstroke in 35.20, 100-meter breaststroke in 1:26.87 and 100-meter freestyle in 1:05.60 on the final day of the Florida Gold Coast Invitational at the Academic Village Pool.
Martin also anchored SOFLO’s winning 200-meter freestyle relay that won in 2:09.86.
“I was excited before CARIFTA because I swam well at JOs and I thought I was very well-prepared,” said Martin, who started swimming recreationally at the Boca Raton YMCA five years ago.
Despite her young age, she has learned to handle the attention she is getting on and off the pool deck. She was one of the most popular swimmers at CARIFTA. On Sunday, her SOFLO teammates were excited that she was swimming the relay.
“I think with each race at CARIFTA I got more adapted to the crowd noise and everyone being around,” Martin said.
“As the meet went on I did better, my nerves went down and I got calmer. I was surprised at some of my races at how I did. I liked how I swam and I liked my times.”
By joining Lohberg’s group, Martin has moved to the next level.
“Now that I am in his group I get to focus more on technique and how to swim a race,” she said. “I get to focus on the little things before I do the big things. I think I am ready now to train a lot harder.
“Having him here was a combination of everything, scary and fun. I wanted to hear what he had to say about my races and how he thought I did and stuff. I liked his input. It was good.”
It was the first meet that Lohberg coached Martin, one of five swimmers who moved from age group coach Bruno Darzi’s group to Lohberg’s senior group.
“What my job is now is to slowly change the training style from a kid-level to a teenager level,” Lohberg said.
“That means there is fine-tuning of the strokes, more aerobic work, more intellectual focus when it comes to the drills that they have to pick up and learn. Sometimes that comes a little bit at the expense of spectacular times because they train differently.
“That’s another thing they have to learn that the objectives in races are different. It’s just not about the times. Sometimes it’s stroke, it’s turns, splitting and technical parts.
“The focus shifts from times-only to technical things because the next three years is basically the time they have to learn everything they have to know when they are competitive, hopefully on the high level. When they are 15, they need to be ready. They need to know what to do and have all the tricks available.”
Lohberg said Martin is easy to work with and eager to learn.
“All five of them are eager to learn,” Lohberg said. “We had a couple sessions where five-time Olympian Dara Torres came by and coached. That gave them a real kick forward. They really pay attention and are a pleasure to work with. They are like a sponge. Anything you throw at them they soak it in and want to do it. They are young, excited and mentally fresh and that is really easy to work with.”
Martin has a full summer schedule of U.S. and Caribbean meets lined up. She was invited to a Kentucky training camp next week. After that it will be Junior Olympics, Zones and another meet in the Caribbean.
“I think all of this is good experience for me,” said Martin, who gave up gymnastics, basketball, ice skating, dance, soccer and ballet for swimming. “I stayed with swimming because I was good at it. I am making so many friends and having these amazing experiences going to meets.
“I established myself at CARIFTA and that motivates me because I have a country that I am representing,” said Martin, who turns 13 on July 7. “I want to do good and I am ready to do good. The Olympics are a goal that I want to get to and hopefully soon. Whether it’s 2012 or 2016, I am definitely thinking about that when I train and go to all these meets.”
Lohberg said the international exposure she is getting is invaluable.
“I want her to do the Caribbean meets because she can establish herself on the national team and that opens the door later for the Olympics and World Championships and that’s what it’s about,” Lohberg said. “It’s an experience that’s unbelievable and I will do everything I can to get her there.”
At age 12, Lohberg said it’s hard to predict her future because of physical changes but the potential is there.
“With what she has been doing so far, I think the sky is the limit,” Lohberg said. “I think she will definitely be one of the best swimmers in the Caribbean and as she continues in the age groups, she could be one of the dominant forces in female swimming in the Caribbean and hopefully even on a higher level. It will be fun and that’s what I am looking forward to.”
Another impressive performance on Sunday was SOFLO 12-year-old Carly Swanson in the 200-meter freestyle.
Swanson, who turned on the afterjets in the last 25 meters, got her first 13-14 cut in a career-best time of 2:25.46. Her previous best was 2:37.95. Swanson had another big time drop in the 100-meter freestyle with a third place finish of 1:08.91. Her previous best was 1:12.73.
She also finished third in her 200-meter breaststroke debut in 3:33.20.
“I am really happy with my swim because I have been working since I turned 12 to get all my 13-14 cuts so I can just go into being 13 with cuts,” Swanson said. “It really helps my confidence. Now that I know that I am capable of getting this time I will try even harder to get my other ones.
“I was just swimming as hard as I could because I really wanted to get the JO time,” Swanson said. “I think that race was more mental for me. I didn’t want the other girl to beat me. I could see her every time I took a breath. This is one of my better swims.”
Swanson said when she moved into Coach Rose’s group she stepped up her training.
“I started training harder coming into this season and I was getting faster times in intervals,” Swanson said. “That’s the difference.
In the cloud-covered morning 12-and-under session, SOFLO had 16 individual winners and two relay champions.
In addition to Martin’s three victories and Swanson’s impressive career-best swims, other individual winners were: Kayla Kelley, 10, 200-meter freestyle, 2:52.89; Ricardo Roche, 10, 2:33.39; Alfredo Mesa Jr., 11, 200-meter freestyle, 2:24.18; Kevin Porto, 10, 50-meter backstroke, 40.38; Jenna Shultz, 10, 100-meter breaststroke, 1:40.06; Diego Rodriguez, 12, 100-meter breaststroke 1:27.19 and 200-meter breaststroke, 3:11.53; Kelley Heron, 10, 100-meter freestyle, 1:12.88; Jorge Depassier, 10, 100-meter freestyle, 1:11.84 and 50-meter butterfly, 38.31; Alvena Walpole, 9, 50-meter butterfly, 38.55; and Jessica Rodriguez, 11, 200-meter breaststroke, 3:10.17.
In the 13-and-over afternoon session, SOFLO had nine individual winners and dominated the 200-meter freestyle relays. In the girls’ 13-and-over, SOFLO had swept the top seven spots.
Individual champions were: Elle Weberg, 25, 100-meter breaststroke, 1:13.76; Dylan Sell, 13, 100-meter breaststroke, 1:21; Leo Andara, 23, 100-meter breaststroke, 1:07.80 and 200-meter butterfly, 2:10.43; Keegan Boisson-Yates, 14, 200-meter individual medley, 2:28.36; Tiffany Oliver, 17, 100-meter backstroke, 1:13.49; Maria Lopez, 14, 200-meter butterfly, 2:33; Blake Kelley, 14, 1500-meter freestyle and Tyler Sell, 17, 1500-meter freestyle, 17:15.71.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org