By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, January 18, 2023—Ana Villamil was looking to step up her game when she joined South Florida Aquatic Club a year and a half ago.

Villamil, 17, a senior at Cypress Bay High School, has seen huge improvements since joining the National Group and Coach Chris Anderson.

“I felt like at SOFLO I would be able to develop my potential as a swimmer better and I feel I have for sure,” Villamil said.

“I love the competitive atmosphere. It’s really fun training with my teammates. I really like competing every day at practice.

“I’m a really competitive person and being able to compete and reach my goals. I am very goal-oriented. Being able to set up goals and being able to pursue them and the work ethic that swimming gives me in every other aspect of life is the best thing.”

Villamil has been swimming competitively for eleven years. She got involved in the sport when doctors told her it would be good for her asthma and help her lungs so her mother signed her up for swimming.

Swimming has helped with discipline when it comes to her lifestyle. “I don’t have a lot of friends at school because I am so dedicated to swimming I have to go bed early. But I love it because it’s worth it.”

Villamil plans to swim at Indian River State College. She is also looking into swimming for her native Colombia internationally.

“I want to keep getting better at swimming, I really, really do,” Villamil said. “I want to keep swimming as far as I can get and be as good as I can possibly be.”

Villamil had her best meet at last month’s Speedo Winter Championships where she made her Futures cuts in the 100 butterfly and 200 breaststroke, events she did not think she would make it in, she said. She also has her cut in the 100 breaststroke.

“I was really shocked, I kept thinking is this really happening to me. It’s taken a really long time for me to see results. Seeing them and exceeding my goals, I was ecstatic. I didn’t know how to react.”

She also broke her high school team’s school record in the 100 breaststroke in a swim-off to go to finals. She finished seventh in the 100 breaststroke in her first state meet this season.

“I wish I could have another year of high school,” Villamil said. “Like everyone else, I missed a year because of Covid. I wish I would have had another year of experience of going to states and all these other big meets.”

If she could go back in time, Villamil said she would tell her younger self to have patience. “There were a lot of moments where I felt frustrated and I kind of panicked because I was doing all of this and I was seeing no results,” she said. “But it will get there and it’s little by little.”

Villamil is looking forward to competing at sectionals, senior championships and Futures before heading off to college. “I think I am definitely swimming the best I have since joining SOFLO,” she said.

Each TYR Swimmer of the Month receives a free TYR backpack. Villamil joins SOFLO teammates Olivia Dinehart (November), Isabella Callaway Coy (October), Jianna Amores (September), Carolina Carrera (August), Lydia Smutny (July), Amber Connor (June), Eva Ortiz (May), Sally Golding (April), Natalie Gembicki (March), Sofia Lugo (February) and Valentina Remmele (January) as 2022 Swimmers of the Month.

SOFLO sponsor TYR is a USA manufacturer of recreational and competitive swimwear, caps, goggles, triathlon gear and accessories and one of the nation’s top companies.

TYR, created by athletes, is named for the Norse god of warriors in Germanic mythology. Among its female-sponsored athletes are ESPY Sportswoman of the Year Katie Ledecky, 2020 Olympians Simone Manuel, Lilly King, Annie Lazor, Ashley Twichell and other elite swimmers Melanie Margalis, Molly Hannis and Kelsi Dahlia.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com


By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, December 28, 2022—Manny Melendez leads by example in and out of the pool.

The South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer has been steadily improving while moving up the ladder since joining SOFLO five years ago.

Melendez started out with the senior development group in March 2018 for five months. From there it was the Silver group in August 2018 for two months; Gold group in October 2018 for 35 months and finally the National group from Sept. 2021 to present.

Melendez, 19, an Everglades High School graduate, is enjoying his best season in the pool with the National group. He made his Futures cuts in the 100 (57.64) and 200 breaststroke (2:06.07) events at the Nov. 18-19 Last Chance Meet.

“I was really happy when I got my cuts, I finally made it,” Melendez said. “It was surprising because the day I made it I was feeling really sick. I think I could have gone a lot faster.”

Melendez has earned high praise from his SOFLO coaches.

“Manny’s attendance and dedication has certainly paid off over the years, accomplishing leadership in the National group as well as achieving his Futures cuts,” SOFLO head coach Chris Anderson said.

“Manny is an example that hard work and attendance pays off. He works and focuses on a particular skill until it becomes habit. He stayed with swimming after graduating high school and now has an opportunity to swim in college.”

Added SOFLO coach Kenzy Green: “Manny is a very motivated swimmer and does his best in and out of the pool. He pays great attention to detail in the water and asks for help and tips to improve. Manny is a role model for hard work and success while remaining humble.”

Melendez started swimming when he was a 5-month old baby with his mother. He started competing at age 6.

“I like the competition and the attitude people have when they are competing with each other especially in training,” Melendez said. “It’s my favorite thing, racing each other and racing new friends at meets to see whose better.”

Melendez credits swimming for helping him develop discipline through the years.

“It’s one of the things I’m glad it’s showed me because I have been very disciplined with my homework and activities. I have a schedule for every day.”

Melendez played basketball for two years. At age 11 his swim coaches suggested he stop playing because he was injury-prone and it was keeping him out of the pool.

“I had to make a big choice whether I wanted to stay with basketball or swimming and I stayed with swimming,” Melendez said. “I am really glad I did.”

Melendez has been taking computer engineering classes at Broward College but would like to attend Indian River State College, where he could continue his competitive swimming career. The Venezuelan is the first member of his family to go to college.

Each TYR Swimmer of the Month receives a free TYR backpack. Melendez joins SOFLO teammates Michael Barber (October), Lincoln Callaway Coy (September), Jacob Jones (August), Ethan Hall (July), Adrian Rendon (June), Niccolo Miccolis (May), Alex Golding (April), Guillermo Mantilla (March), Tristan Dons (February) and Hashan Ekanayake (January) as 2022 TYR Swimmers of the Month.

SOFLO sponsor TYR is an American designer, developer and manufacturer of recreational and competitive swimwear, caps, goggles, triathlon gear and accessories and one of the nation’s top companies. TYR, created by athletes, is named for the Norse god of warriors in Germanic mythology.

The company’s mission statement is starting from, powered by and made for athletes, we strive to create and re-imagine technologies that enhance experience and performance at every level.

Among its male-sponsored athletes are 2020 Olympians Michael Andrew, Tom Shields, Nic Fink, Townley Haas, Bobby Finke, Patrick Callan, Hunter Armstrong, Brooks Curry, Zack Harting and Jordan Wilimovsky and other elite swimmers Matt Grevers, Maxime Rooney, Nick Albiero, Jacob Pebley, Coleman Stewart, Justin Ress, David Curtiss, Charlie Clark and Ryan Lochte.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com

From Swimmer To Coach, Jessica Rodriguez Comes Full Circle At South Florida Aquatic Club

By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, December 24, 2022—Jessica Rodriguez is ready to start a new chapter in her swimming career.

The former South Florida Aquatic Club elite swimmer will begin Monday as a full-time coach at SOFLO. She will work with both the senior program and gold program as lead coach.

“I am very excited for her,” said SOFLO head coach Chris Anderson. “She worked with us the summer of 2020 and the senior group responded to Jessica very positively.

“Having a coach swim for our program for more than eight years she has a very good perspective of SOFLO swimming and work ethic,” Anderson said.

Rodriguez, 24, graduated from University of Florida where she swam her freshman and sophomore years. She retired early and earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology in May, 2021. She would like to teach history at the high school level and will be pursuing her masters in education online.

“I am very happy with my decision,” Rodriguez said. “I’m really excited to provide some stability for the group. I am definitely not going to go easy on these kids. I want to be as helpful to Chris, the team and kids as possible.”

Rodriguez said she realized how much she loved coaching when she taught swim lessons and helped out at SOFLO during the summer of 2021. She also coached in Gainesville for more than a year before returning home to South Florida.

“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I really love coaching. The reason that I decided I wanted to teach and enjoy coaching so much is that I love the idea of having a good impact on the world. I think the best way to do that is by interacting with kids and helping them make their own path. I enjoy working with kids and helping them reach their goals.

“Swimming is such an incredible sport,” Rodriguez said. “Some of the best people I have ever met have been in the sport of swimming.”

Her return to SOFLO, the largest and one of the most well-respected USA Swimming clubs in the Florida Gold Coast, was a no-brainer. The club has always been a good fit for Rodriguez.

“A big part of it is history and the coaching staff,” Rodriguez said. “Chris has been the head coach well over 20 years. The environment he has created and success that’s been yielded from the team just attracts such a talented group of individuals. I think the lessons program with George and Edileide is helping swimmers develop really good skills and I think that’s why they have been so successful. From such a young age kids are taught properly by such good, intelligent coaches.”

Now that she has come full circle, what would Rodriguez tell her younger self if given the chance to do it all over again?

“I’m happy with the route I took because it’s led me here,” Rodriguez said. “But if there was something I could have changed I would have told my younger self to not take everything so seriously and personally. Just enjoy the journey…not worry so much on the very strict goals that I had for my life and enjoy the process a little bit more and not worry about the destination as much.”

Rodriguez is still athletic and currently training for an Olympic-distance triathlon in April. “I have definitely found the joy in swimming again,” she said.

Rodriguez was the first SOFLO swimmer to sign with Florida after an outstanding high school career at Hialeah Gardens High School. The Academic All-American and junior national qualifier was the total student-athlete package Florida coaches were looking to add to their successful program. She swam the 200 breaststroke and 400 IM.

As a swimmer, Rodriguez was a role model for young swimmers coming up. She was a team leader and motivator and helped several swimmers with her positivity and work ethic in training. At 15, she was a SOFLO Swimmer of the Month.

“One of the things I really enjoyed was the camaraderie,” Rodriguez said. “I had a really good group of friends. I come from a competitive family. I liked the competitive environment. I got to compete with my sister.”

Rodriguez has seen some changes in swimming through the years with the focus on skills rather than yardage as swimmers get older. However, she feels it’s important for swimmers to develop an aerobic capacity at a young age.

“Anyone that’s been on a team for eight years and found a way to get to the national group has leadership skills,” Anderson said at her college signing. “At Senior Championships, she was motivating the freshmen and sophomores on how to be more successful. She took that role on her own. She knows how to work and motivate. When she talks, people listen.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com


By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, December 28, 2021–Look up the word “determined” in the dictionary and you might just find a photo of Juan Mora.

Determined to prove he was more than a “average swimmer” when he joined South Florida Aquatic Club in 2018.

Determined to show Doral Academy swim coach and former SOFLO age group coach Cathy Silveira he had “that something” she saw in him from the beginning.

Determined to win a state high school title before moving back to California to rejoin his parents and four siblings after being on his own for five months.

The 17-year-old Mother of Divine Grace home schooler accomplished what he set out to do and more.

Competing for Doral Academy, he won the 100-yard breaststroke State 4A title in 54.71 and broke the school record (54.65 in prelims). He was the lone State 4A champion from Miami-Dade and Broward and scored 34 of Doral’s 52 points.

It was the perfect end to a perfect senior season. He was a two-time district and two-time region champion in the 100 breaststroke and 100 butterfly.

“Winning that state title meant everything to me,” Mora said. “I was determined to win. Touching that wall first and hearing my name being announced the winner, it was really an emotional night for me. A lot of tears of joy and the mission was completed.

“That was my biggest meet, the highlight of my career. It was one of the best nights of my life, knowing that I put so much of my life into it and I sacrificed so much and I was finally able to come home with that gold. After that I wrapped things up in Florida and flew home.”

Home is now El Dorado Hills, Calif., 22 miles east of the state capital Sacramento. He is now training with USA Swimming Gold Team Sierra Marlins. He plans to return to South Florida in March for Senior Championships and May for Doral Academy’s graduation ceremonies.

Mora is now making up for lost time with his family. His father, Juan, is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. He has re-connected with his brothers Alex, 15, and Luke, 11, and sisters Mia, 9, and Ava, 16 months.

Mora has been swimming for nine years. His mother signed him up for lessons while she worked out in the gym. One day the swimming instructor pulled her aside and suggested she enroll him on a summer swim team.

“My swimming took off from there,” Mora said.

When he lived in Virginia, he was a backstroker and set several age group records. A rotator cuff injury forced him to give up the backstroke and he transitioned to the breaststroke.

Mora qualified for the Junior Olympics in 2015 but quit swimming for two years. “It was too much, too soon,” he said. So he played rugby. “I thought about playing rugby in high school but I guess the water kept calling me back. I went back to the summer swim team and then SOFLO. I’m glad I did.”

When the family moved to South Florida, SOFLO happened to be the closest swim club to their home.

“It was kind of a miracle me finding SOFLO, we didn’t really look at swim teams,” Mora said. “It ended up being one of the best teams I could have joined.”

Mora was impressed with SOFLO’s coaches and swimmers.

“I loved the commitment of the team and the swimmers,” he said. “I liked the environment and how the swimmers conducted themselves. It was a motivational environment. Everyone on the team were go-getters. Everybody on the swim team had dreams. It was very motivating to be there.”

SOFLO was Mora’s first year-round club training experience. He had played soccer, rugby and football but decided to focus solely on swimming.

“When I first started SOFLO, the coaches didn’t pay much attention to me, they thought I was just an average swimmer which I was at the time,” Mora admitted. “I could barely do a flip turn and my stroke was okay. I could swim, I wouldn’t drown.

“It was Coach Cathy who saw something in me and she pulled me aside and had a conversation with me. She decided to work with me one-on-one to achieve my goals and get better. Her commitment to me was as a swimmer and military kid because she knew how hard moving was.”

Mora and his family moved eight times while living in Virginia, California and Florida. Silveira also came from a military family background. She helped Mora get into the Naval Academy which he begins at the end of June in Annapolis, Md.

“She was able to connect with me and work with me personally,” Mora said. “That’s why I joined Doral swimming. I owe everything to Coach Cathy. Coach Chris has done a lot for me but Coach Cathy has always been there for me and she always will be. She has done a lot for me and made a huge impact in my life.”

Swimming has helped to mold Mora into the person he had hoped to become.

“Swimming has instilled discipline in me and taught me how to set my priorities which are a big thing in your teenage years,” Mora said. “It takes a disciplined person to set them properly and know how to balance things.

“There were a lot of times where I was struggling balancing swimming and school and everything else, but swimming kind of forces you to do it. When you are on a competitive swim team like that, missing practice is not okay. Being on a team like that picked me up. It made me mentally stronger and taught me about teamwork and what being a leader is.”

Mora’s big turning point in swimming was his sophomore year at Senior Championships when he made his first Futures cut. “I didn’t know what my time was, I just saw the team going wild,” he said. Three days later he was on a plane headed to Futures.

“It was that moment I realized the average swimmer and underdog had potential,” Mora said. “I started to believe in myself and what Coach Cathy saw. I started putting even more work in and started grinding it out. My junior year I just went nuts.”

Mora knew his family was re-locating at the end of his junior year and decided to make the ultimate sacrifice.

“I had worked so hard that I asked my parents to let me stay,” Mora said. “It was hard to leave my family. I stayed behind in Florida for five months and my goal was to win state. I sacrificed time with my family but I knew I needed to do that. I worked too hard so I said goodbye to the family and started training like there was no tomorrow.”

Mora is excited about his future. He hopes to become a Navy Seal, an elite maritime military force.

“Nothing satisfies me more than knowing I am using my God-given gifts for something better,” Mora said. “I would much rather serve and do something good and maybe make a change or give my life trying. I am beyond excited and ready for it. I think it’s a perfect fit for me.”

Each TYR Swimmer of the Month receives a free TYR backpack.

SOFLO sponsor TYR is a USA manufacturer of recreational and competitive swimwear, caps, goggles, triathlon gear and accessories and one of the nation’s top companies.

TYR, created by athletes, is named for the Norse god of warriors in Germanic mythology. Among its male-sponsored athletes are 2020 Olympians Michael Andrew, Tom Shields, Nic Fink, Townley Haas and Jordan Wilimovsky and other elite swimmers Matt Grevers, Maxime Rooney, Jacob Pebley and Ryan Lochte.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com

St. Andrew’s Aquatics Captures First-Ever Florida Gold Coast Senior Championships, SOFLO Finishes Second

By Sharon Robb
CORAL SPRINGS, August 1, 2021—In one of the closest Florida Gold Coast Senior Championships, St. Andrew’s Aquatics won its first-ever combined team title Sunday at Coral Springs Aquatic Complex.

Defending seven-time champion South Florida Aquatic Club finished runner-up in combined with 1,295.50, 151.50 points behind St. Andrew’s Aquatics with 1,446. Jupiter Dragons were third with 1,064.50. They were the only teams to crack the 1,000-point barrier among a field of 35 teams.

St. Andrew’s Aquatics also won the boys team title with 1,143. SOFLO was second with 790 and Swim Fort Lauderdale was third with 675.

Jupiter Dragons, led by Heidi Smithwick, winner of seven individual and relay events, won the girls’ team title with 710.50 points, just 41.50 points ahead of Gulliver Swim Club with 669. Pine Crest was third with 665.50. SOFLO was fourth with 505.50 and St. Andrew’s Aquatics was sixth with 303.

Because of bad weather and impending storms moving in from the Everglades, the final night session was cancelled and results were morning timed finals. The 400-meter medley relays and fast heats of the 1500 freestyles were not contested.

St. Andrew’s swimmers dedicated the win to longtime head coach Sid Cassidy, who underwent coronary angioplasty and stent surgery and was unable to be at the meet.

“We wanted to make him happy and feel better so we wanted to do well,” said St. Andrew’s sprinter and U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier Maximilian Zum Tobel, anchor leg of the Florida Gold Coast record-breaking 200-meter freestyle relay in 1:32.48, just missing the national age group record by .05. The previous FGC record was 1:32.87 set by Westminster Academy in 2013.

“We weren’t talking about the title too much but we were pretty confident because we knew we had a stacked finals in the 50 free and 100 back,” Zum Tobel said. “Our mindset was that we were ready to take on what we wanted to do. I’m happy, this is awesome.”

Despite missing several top swimmers competing at both Futures Championships and Speedo Summer Championships that begin Tuesday, SOFLO swimmers rose to the occasion during the three-day meet.

“Our kids were phenomenal,” SOFLO coach Chris Anderson said from Greensboro, N.C. “They swam really well and stepped it up.”

SOFLOs Top 10 finishers were:

Michelle Marinheiro, 1500-meter freestyle, first 18:41.11.

Gaby Banks, 50-meter freestyle, second 27.10.

Christian Tijero, 1500-meter freestyle, second 17:40.12.

Michelle Fernandez, 100-meter breaststroke, fifth, 1:16.82.

Nathaniel Garrick, 1500-meter freestyle, seventh 18:14.87, time drop 38.82.

Alex Golding, 200-meter individual medley, seventh 2:14.44.

Rafael Rodriguez, 100-meter backstroke, eighth, 1:01.15; 50-meter freestyle, ninth 24.66, time drop 0.51.

SOFLO also had two swimmers, Alex Golding and Sebastian Lares make their Futures cuts during the meet.

For the summer’s last local long course meet, 41 SOFLO swimmers, ages 15-and-over, (26 men and 15 women) competed in 174 individual and eight relay events.

The top three girls high points leaders were: Heidi Smithwick, Jupiter Dragons, 215; Riley Botting, Pine Crest 141; and Paola Gonzalez of Metro Aquatics, 134. SOFLO’s top girl was Natalie Gembicki, 16, with 70 points.

The top three boys high point leaders were: Kaii Winkler, Eagle Aquatics 165.50; Gabriel Araya, Azura, 159; and Dario Martin, Olympus Swimming 147. SOFLO’s top boy was Alex Golding, 17, with 91 points.

: 1. St. Andrew’s Aquatics 1,446, 2. South Florida Aquatic Club 1,295.50, 3. Jupiter Dragons 1,064.50, 4. Pine Crest 894.50, 5. Gulliver 832, 6. Swim Fort Lauderdale 745, 7. Midtown Weston 652, 8. Azura Florida Aquatics 588, 9. Metro Aquatics 586, 10. TS Aquatics 430.

MEN TEAM TOTALS: 1. St. Andrew’s Aquatics 1,143, 2. South Florida Aquatic Club 790, 3. Swim Fort Lauderdale 675, 4. Eagle Aquatics 401.50, 5. Jupiter Dragons 354, 6. Azura Florida Aquatics 348, 7. Metro Aquatics 289, 8. TS Aquatics 244, 9. Olympus Swimming Club 242, 10. Boca Raton Swim Team 235.50.

WOMEN TEAM TOTALS: 1. Jupiter Dragons 710.50, 2. Gulliver 669, 3. Pine Crest 665.50, 4. South Florida Aquatic Club 505.50, 5. Midtown Weston 460, 6. St. Andrew’s 303, 7. Metro Aquatics 297, 8. TS Aquatics 291, 9. Wahoos of Wellington 248, 10. Flood Aquatics 242.50.

1500-meter freestyle: 1. Michelle Marinheiro, SOFLO 18:41.11, 2. Lillian Smith, SAS 18:55.69, 3. Addison Byrne, PB 19:31.34.

100-meter backstroke: 1. tie, Hanna Smith, PC 1:07.91 and Kiersten Munna, FAST 1:07.91, 3. Solana Capalbo, AZFL 1:08.39; SOFLO: 28. Sally Golding 1:12.81, time drop 1.41, 31. Sara Quintero 1:13.18, 41. Jena Legaspi 1:14.44, 45. Mariann Catalasan 1:15.73, time drop 0.08, 50. Sofia Osorio 1:16.90.

100-meter breaststroke: 1. Micaela Sierra, AZFL 1:13.30, 2. Heidi Smithwick, JUP 1:14.74, 3. Delaine Goll, GPA 1:14.88; SOFLO: 5. Michelle Fernandez 1:16.82, 26. Sabrina Osorio 1:23.11, 28. Mariann Catalasan 1:23.24, 33. Sara Quintero 1:24.21, time drop 0.16, 51. Ana Frable 1:29.50.

50-meter freestyle: 1. Heidi Smithwick, JUP 26.36, 2. Gaby Banks, SOFLO 27.10, 3. Kiara Caamano, JUP 27.17, 20. Nat Gembicki 28.44, 34. Michelle Fernandez 28.92, 47. Jennamarie Brames 29.50, 49. Sally Golding 29.52, time drop 0.53, 58. Michelle Marinheiro 29.83, 83. Sophia Bedoya 30.97.

200-meter individual medley: 1. Heidi Smithwick, JUP 2:24.51, 2. Riley Botting, PC 2:27.31, 3. Paola Gonzalez, MAC 2:27.50; SOFLO: 17. Nat Gembicki 2:33.76, time drop 4.89, 35. Jennamarie Brames 2:38.44, 41. Sabrina Osorio 2:41.25, 49. Mariann Catalasan 2:47.29.

1500-meter freestyle: 1. Thomas Powers-Hammond, SFTL 17:31.09, 2. Christian Tijero, SOFLO 17:40.12, 3. Mateo Shearer, HAT 17:40.37; SOFLO: 7. Nathaniel Garrick 18:14.87, time drop 38.82.

100-meter backstroke: 1. Josh Zuchowski, FAST 57.44, 2. Kaii Winkler, EA 58.62, 3. Joshua Balbi, SAS 59.45; SOFLO: 8. Rafael Rodriguez 1:01.15, 11. Sebastian Lares 1:01.84, time drop 2.41, 15. Alejandro Mateus 1:02.51, 17. Aldo Zepeda 1:02.78, 22. Philo Ibrahim 1:03.26, 27. Austin Nelson 1:04.46, 29. Adrian Hernandez 1:04.87, 38. Diego Nazario-Vazquez 1:06.33, time drop 2.85, 49. Nathaniel Garrick 1:07.31, 52. Nicolas Sanchade 1:07.83, 67. Nicholas Chaimowicz 1:11.06.

100-meter breaststroke: 1. Diego Jesus Duarte, AZFL 1:05.84, 2. Dylan Brisco, SAS 1:05.84, 3. Dario Martin, OSC 1:05.91; SOFLO: 16. Manuel Melendez 1:10.52, 18. Javier Roman 1:11.39, 38. Christopher Hau 1:14.40, 41. Alan Bertea 1:14.66, 43. Zackary Harris 1:15.46, time drop 0.81, 52. Adrian Hernandez 1:16.16, 66. Vinay Gurnani 1:19.57.

50-meter freestyle: 1. Josiah Morales, PAQ 23.29, 2. Reese Branzell, SAS 23.30, 3. Max Zum Tobel, SAS 23.86, 9. Rafael Rodriguez 24.66, time drop 0.51, 25. Philo Ibrahim 25.45, 27. Aldo Zepeda 25.50, time drop 0.19, 47. Brennan Binder 26.20, time drop 0.30, 83. Robert Wilson 27.19, 89. Christopher Hau 27.96.

200-meter individual medley: 1. Josh Zuchowski, FAST 2:08.93, 2. Dario Martin, OSC 2:10.93, 3. Gabriel Araya 2:11.80; SOFLO: 7. Alex Golding 2:14.44, 15. Javier Roman 2:16.84, 18. Sebastian Lares 2:18.07, time drop 3.80, 20. Alejandro Mateus 2:19.41, time drop 2.54, 21. Enrique Rodriguez 2:19.49, 25. Adrian Hernandez 2:20.83, time drop 0.85, 32. Brennan Binder 2:22.54, time drop 4.78, 42. Manuel Melendez 2:23.95, 50. Christian Tijero 2:25.59, 52. Garrett Oliver 2:25.79, 56. Zackary Harris 2:26.32.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com

SOFLO’s Alia Atkinson’s Medal Quest Ends In Final Olympic Swim

By Sharon Robb
TOKYO, Japan, July 25, 2021–Alia Atkinson, the most decorated swimmer in Jamaica, competed in her final Olympic race Sunday at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

Making her fifth Olympic appearance, the longtime South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer saw her medal hopes end in her opening heat of the 100-meter breaststroke.

Atkinson finished third in 1:07.70, falling short of the semifinal round of 16. She had a slight lead at the halfway mark in 31.48 after an 0.67 reaction time off the blocks, but faded down the finish with a split time of 36.22.

The fastest event qualifier was South African Tatjana Schoenmaker, who broke American Lilly King’s five-year old Olympic record in 1:04.82. The women’s final is Monday.

Atkinson, at 32, one of oldest swimmers in the field, was hoping to add an Olympic medal to her already impressive swimming resume that includes three short course world records, 26 international medals including four short course World Championship gold medals, 14 long course and 11 short course national records.

“Not gonna lie, I may have teared up on this,” Atkinson wrote on her Facebook page.

“It’s funny. Looking back, the years went by so fast and before I realized it, I was looking at the end of it,” Atkinson said after her race.

“Would I give it all up for an Olympic medal?” and honestly, I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything. All the ups and downs has made me who I am today ( though at times it feels like there were more downs than ups), but it taught me how to get up and God taught me how to smile through it all.

“My x5 Olympic journey ends here, but the Olympic medal is still waiting for some Jamaican girl/boy to claim it. I know you can you, so keep pushing.

“I hope the road was/is less rocky for you; if so, then I have indeed succeeded. We have waited a long time for you, so thank you for staying true and carrying the fly high.”

After her race, she was deluged with appreciative fan mail on Facebook: “Proud of you Alia, thanks for representing us…your effort is always appreciated…well done on your long and illustrious career representing Jamaica…you have always given it your all…thank you for always representing Jamaica with humility and grace. You’ve had an amazing career. We are very proud of all you have done…You have been an awesome ambassador of Jamaica…one luv.”

It was a record fifth Olympic appearance for both Atkinson and her longtime SOFLO coach Chris Anderson. Atkinson will continue to swim in FINA World Cups, FINA World Championships in Doha, Qatar and International Swimming League for the UK-based London Roar in the pro league’s third season that opens Aug. 26 in Naples, Italy.

At the 2012 London Summer Olympics she was only the second Jamaican swimmer to place in the top four at an Olympic Games, finishing fourth in the 100 breaststroke. In 2016, she was eighth in the Rio Olympics.

In 2014, she was the second woman to swim a 1:02.36 in the short course 100-meter breaststroke tying the world record in the event. In 2016, Atkinson set a new world record in the short course 50-meter breaststroke. Two years later, in 2018, she set a new world record in the short course 50-meter breaststroke for the second time.

Martin Lyn, president of the Aquatics Sports Association of Jamaica, praised Atkinson to the local media before she raced.

“The fact is that her legacy is already set, she has done incredibly well for Jamaica,” Lyn said. “She has put Jamaica on the world stage, not just in what she has achieved, but basically in her performances as well.

“She has excelled in a sport that predominantly consists of Caucasians or Europeans. She has done extremely well, holding world records. Her name is already set and is secure in the annals of swimming history.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com

Swimming Begins Saturday At 2020 Tokyo Olympics; Florida Gold Coast Well-Represented

By Sharon Robb
TOKYO, Japan, July 20, 2021—Are you ready for some really fast swimming and maybe a few world records?

The sport begins a new era at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics now that legendary Michael Phelps has retired from competing although he will be at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre as an NBC commentator.

In his wake, the competition in the pool will be fast as ever with American superstars Katie Ledecky and Floridian Caeleb Dressel leading the way.

In a departure from previous teams, the U.S. has 11 teenagers on its roster, the most since 1996. Thirty swimmers from the 2016 Olympic team return.

South Florida swimming fans will get to see the Florida Gold Coast well-represented with 25 local swimmers from throughout the world compete including SOFLO’s Alia Atkinson of Jamaica, making her fifth and final Olympic appearance, and flag bearer Julio Horrego of Honduras, making his debut. They are joined by their SOFLO coach Chris Anderson coaching the Jamaican team.

Azura Florida Aquatics leads the way with 12 swimmers including Marcelo Acosta and Celina Marquez of El Salvador and Davidson Vincent of Haiti. Azura head coach Gianluca Alberani will serve as El Salvador head coach. St. Andrew’s alum Izaak Bastian of Florida State is representing the Bahamas. His former high school coach Sid Cassidy is a top official for open water swimming. Plantation American Heritage alum Dylan Carter will represent Trinidad & Tobago at his second Olympics. Veteran swimmers Bruno Fratus of Brazil and Renzo Tjon-A-Joe of Suriname trained at Coral Springs Aquatic Complex for Tokyo. University of Miami, Florida International and Florida State will all be represented by current or former local swimmers.

Swimming features a total of 37 events. The 37 events are 18 men’s and 18 women’s events. There is also the debut of the women’s 1500 freestyle, men’s 800 freestyle and mixed 4 × 100 meter medley relay.

The United States leads the medal table winning 553 medals in swimming (246 gold, 172 silver, 135 bronze) since the inception of the Olympics. Australia and the former East Germany are second and third in the medal count.

The Tokyo Games will feature preliminary sessions in the evening local time and finals sessions in the morning. Since Japan is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Time, as a result, every finals session will air in the evening in the U.S. and will feature prominently in the first week of NBC’s prime time Olympics coverage. In addition, every session of qualifying heats will air live on USA starting at 6 a.m. each day of competition.

Every swimming session can also be streamed live on NBCOlympics.com and on the NBC Sports app. Swimming including open water runs through August 4.

Phelps, the most decorated Olympian with 28 Olmpic medals including 23 gold in five Olympic Games (2000-2016) will join NBC’s broadcast team along with veteran swim announcers Rowdy Gaines and Dan Hicks. Phelps had joined NBC during the Olympic trials and was well-received.

“From the moment he joined our team at Trials, Michael’s ability to provide insightful analysis, thoughtful commentary and tell entertaining stories was apparent,” said Molly Solomon, executive producer and president at NBC Olympics Production. “We’re thrilled to have him join us in Tokyo, and our audience will benefit from hearing the perspective of the most decorated Olympian of all time.”

First Session, 6 a.m. EST
Heats for Men’s 400m Individual Medley; Women’s 100m Butterfly; Men’s 400m Freestyle; Women’s 400m Individual Medley; Men’s 100m Breaststroke; Women’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay.
Second Session, 9:30 p.m. EST
Men’s 400m Individual Medley Final; Women’s 100m Butterfly Semifinals; Men’s 400m Freestyle Final; Men’s 400m Individual Medley Victory Ceremony; Women’s 400m Individual Medley Final; Men’s 400m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Men’s 100m Breaststroke Semifinals; Women’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Final; Women’s 400m Individual Medley Victory Ceremony; Women’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Victory Ceremony.

First Session, 6 a.m. EST
Women’s 100m Backstroke Heats; Men’s 200m Freestyle Heats; Women’s 100m Breaststroke Heats; Men’s 100m Backstroke; Women’s 400m Freestyle Heats; Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Heats.
Second Session, 9:30 p.m. EST
Women’s 100m Butterfly Final; Men’s 200m Freestyle Semifinals; Women’s 100m Breaststroke Semifinals; Women’s 100m Butterfly Victory Ceremony; Men’s 100m Breaststroke Final; Women’s 400m Freestyle Final; Men’s 100m Backstroke Semifinals; Men’s 100m Breaststroke Victory Ceremony; Women’s 100m Backstroke Semifinals; Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Final; Women’s 400m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay Victory Ceremony.

First session, 6 a.m. EST
Women’s 200m Freestyle Heats; Men’s 200m Butterfly Heats; Women’s 200m Individual Medley Heats; Women’s 1500m Freestyle Heats.
Second session, 9:30 p.m. EST
Women’s 200m Freestyle Semifinals; Men’s 200m Freestyle Final; Women’s 100m Backstroke Final; Men’s 100m Backstroke Final; Men’s 200m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Women’s 100m Breaststroke Final; Women’s 100m Backstroke Victory Ceremony; Men’s 200m Butterfly Semifinals; Men’s 100m Backstroke Victory Ceremony; Women’s 200m Individual Medley Semifinals; Women’s 100m Breaststroke Victory Ceremony.

TUESDAY, July 27
First session, 6 a.m. EST
Men’s 100m Freestyle Heats; Women’s 200m Butterfly Heats; Men’s 200m Breaststroke Heats; Men’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Heats; Men’s 800m Freestyle Heats.
Second session, 9:30 p.m. EST
Men’s 100m Freestyle Semifinals; Women’s 200m Freestyle Final; Men’s 200m Butterfly Final; Women’s 200m Butterfly Semifinals; Women’s 200m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Men’s 200m Breaststroke Semifinals; Men’s 200m Butterfly Victory Ceremony; Women’s 200m Individual Medley Final; Women’s 1500m Freestyle Final; Women’s 200m Individual Medley Victory Ceremony; Men’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Final; Women’s 1500m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Men’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Victory Ceremony.

First session, 6 a.m. EST
Women’s 100m Freestyle Heats; Men’s 200m Backstroke Heats; Women’s 200m Breaststroke Heats; Men’s 200m Individual Medley Heats; Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Heats.
Second session, 9:30 p.m. EST
Men’s 800m Freestyle Final; Men’s 200m Breaststroke Final; Women’s 100m Freestyle Semifinals; Men’s 200m Backstroke Semifinals; Men’s 800m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Women’s 200m Butterfly Final; Men’s 100m Freestyle Final; Men’s 200m Breaststroke Victory Ceremony; Women’s 200m Breaststroke Semifinals; Men’s 200m Individual Medley Semifinals; Women’s 200m Butterfly Victory Ceremony; Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Final; Men’s 100m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Victory Ceremony.

First session, 6 a.m. EST
Women’s 800m Freestyle Heats; Men’s 100m Butterfly Heats; Women’s 200m Backstroke Heats; Mixed 4 x 100m Medley Relay Heats.
Second session, 9:30 p.m. EST
Men’s 100m Butterfly Semifinals; Women’s 200m Breaststroke Final; Men’s 200m Backstroke Final; Women’s 100m Freestyle Final; Women’s 200m Breaststroke Victory Ceremony; Men’s 200m Individual Medley Final; Men’s 200m Backstroke Victory Ceremony; Women’s 200m Backstroke Semifinals; Women’s 100m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Men’s 200m Individual Medley Victory Ceremony.

FRIDAY, July 30
First session, 6 a.m. EST
Men’s 50m Freestyle Heats; Women’s 50m Freestyle Heats; Men’s 1500m Freestyle Heats; Women’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay Heats; Men’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay Heat.
Second session, 9:30 p.m. EST
Men’s 100m Butterfly Final; Women’s 200m Backstroke Final; Women’s 800m Freestyle Final; Men’s 100m Butterfly Victory Ceremony; Men’s 50m Freestyle Semifinals; Women’s 200m Backstroke Victory Ceremony; Women’s 50m Freestyle Semifinals; Mixed 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final; Women’s 800m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Mixed 4 x 100m Medley Relay Victory Ceremony.

First session, 6 a.m. EST
Men’s 50m Freestyle Final; Women’s 50m Freestyle Final; Men’s 1500m Freestyle Final; Men’s 50m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Women’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final; Women’s 50m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Men’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay Final; Men’s 1500m Freestyle Victory Ceremony; Women’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay Victory Ceremony; Men’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay Victory Ceremony.

TUESDAY, August 3
Open Water, Women’s 10km, 5:30 p.m. EST

Open Water, Men’s 10km, 5:30 p.m.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com

SOFLO’s Anderson, Atkinson, Horrego Among 76 South Florida Olympians At 2020 Tokyo Olympics

By Sharon Robb
TOKYO, Japan, July 20, 2021—South Florida is a melting pot of athletes when it comes to training for the Olympics.

The ideal training ground for athletes, many from local high schools, colleges and clubs has produced 76 Olympians including 25 swimmers and medal hopefuls including South Florida Aquatic Club’s Alia Atkinson, Julio Horrego and Chris Anderson for the pandemic-delayed Summer Olympics that begin Tuesday night with three softball games and Friday morning with the Opening Ceremony (live in the morning and edited version in prime time).

A combination of weather, facilities, top-caliber coaching, history and sponsors has made South Florida a major player on the Olympic stage.

The lure of earning a college scholarship while training for an Olympic berth is another contributing factor.

Many of these Olympians trained full-time in South Florida while working part or full-time jobs through the pandemic and uncertainty that the Olympics would even be held after being rescheduled a year later.

The veteran of the group is five-time Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson, a Flanagan alum, who made her Olympic debut at 15 and is still seeking an Olympic medal of any color in her signature event 100-meter breaststroke to cap off her distinguished career. “Last swim, fast swim,” she said.

“You don’t have to look very far for role models or world-class athletes,” Atkinson said. “This is the greatest place in the world to train and compete. This is paradise for an athlete.

“The opportunity in this country is so much greater than anywhere else,” Atkinson said. “I started when I was 11 and just worked myself up to the Olympics. My path to the Olympics started here in South Florida.”

Foreign athletes have made a great impact in the South Florida amateur sports scene.

“Most people believe that the education and opportunities that are here are better than in their home country,” said Anderson, who is also appearing in his fifth Olympics with his two athletes. “We try to give everyone an equal chance. It’s what the American Dream is all about.”

The Games of the 32nd Olympiad were to have started last July 22 but were pushed back by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite many in Japan questioning whether it is wise with the virus still raging in the country, the International Olympic Committee is pushing ahead in front of near-empty venues.

The Olympics will features 11,313 athletes including 888 swimmers and 80,000 support staff, officials and media members.

In hopes of attracting a younger audience, six sports have been added to the Olympic program including four first-time Olympic sports skateboarding, sports climbing, surfing and karate. Baseball and softball will also return to the sports lineup.

The only sports that have been included in every Summer Olympics are swimming, track and field, cycling, fencing and gymnastics.

NBC and other broadcasters from around the world are working within an Olympic bubble. They are permitted to go between accommodations and work locations for the first two weeks in the country. They are testing often, wearing masks and following protocols while preparing to broadcast over 7,000 hours of action over 17 days.

“I really believe that people are craving a shared experience after all we’ve been through,” said Molly Solomon, executive producer of NBC’s Olympics coverage that will be offered on NBC, cable outlets like USA and NBCSN, on NBCOlympics.com and the Peacock streaming service on Twitch, Twitter and Snap.

NBC’s prime-time coverage will almost exclusively be devoted to swimming and diving, track and field, gymnastics and beach volleyball, as it has in the past. There will be some exceptions, like gold medal games in men’s and women’s basketball.

The time difference (Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the eastern United States, 16 hours ahead of the west) means limited opportunity for live coverage in the evening.

All athletes had to provide two negative tests prior to flying to Tokyo and a negative test upon arrival. They were also required to download two apps on their phones: one that monitors location and another for daily reporting of their temperature and symptoms.

Masks are mandatory except when competing, tests will be readily available and once the Games officially begin, any athlete who tests positive will be disqualified from competition. When an athlete wins a medal, they will be required to award themselves by hanging it around their necks instead of Olympic dignitaries doing the honor. After finishing their competition schedule they are required to leave the country within 48 hours.

Despite all the controversy surrounding the Games including the slow vaccination rates in Japan, 60 reported COVID-19 cases as of Monday in the Olympic Village and banning of local and international spectators including athletes’ parents, family and friends, the Games’ main focus will always be the athletes, including South Florida’s talented contingent. Let the Games begin!!!


Eddy Alvarez, Miami, Columbus alum, Miami Marlins minor league, USA
Triston Casas, Pembroke Pines, USA
Jon Jay, Miami, Columbus High/University of Miami alum, USA
Nick Martinez, Miami, USA
Danny Valencia, University of Miami alum, Israel
Ben Wanger, University of Miami alum, Israel

Precious Achiuwa, Miami Heat, Nigeria
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat, USA
Sylvia Fowles, Miami, Edison/Gulliver Prep, USA
KC Okpala, Miami Heat, Nigeria
Gabe Vincent, Miami Heat, Nigeria

Nick Lucena, Cooper City, Western High/ FSU alum, USA

Maha Gouda, Miami, Florida International University, Egypt
Jordan Windle, Fort Lauderdale, USA

Kent Farrington, Wellington, USA
Laura Kraut, Royal Palm Beach, USA
Jessica Springsteen, Wellington, USA
McLain Ward, Wellington, USA

GOLF (2)
Daniela Darquea, University of Miami alum, Ecuador
Lexi Thompson, Coral Springs, USA

JUDO (2)
Angelica Delgado, Miami, FIU, USA
Johnny Prado, Miami, Coach, USA

Ariel Torres, Hialeah, Miami-Dade College, USA

Aisha Chow, University of Miami alum, Trinidad & Tobago

Nikki Barnes, U.S. Coast Guard, Miami, USA
Lara Dallman-Weis, Miami, USA
Riley Gibbs, Fort Lauderdale, USA
David Hughes, Miami, USA
Pedro Pascual, West Palm Beach, USA
Stephanie Roble, Miami, USA
Anna Weis, Fort Lauderdale, USA

Zion Wright, Jupiter, USA

Caroline Marks, Boca Raton, USA

Marcelo Acosta, Azura, El Salvador
Steven Aimable, Azura, Senegal
Gianluca Alberani, Coach, Azura, El Salvador
Chris Anderson, Coach, SOFLO, Jamaica
Alia Atkinson, Flanagan, SOFLO, Jamaica Flanagan
Julimar Avila, Azura, Honduras
Izaak Bastian, St. Andrew’s/FSU, Bahamas
Sid Cassidy, St. Andrew’s, Coach/Official, open water, USA
Dylan Carter, Plantation American Heritage, Trinidad & Tobago
Andrew Fowler, Azura, Guyana
Nicole Frank, Azura, Uruguay
Bruno Fratus, Coral Springs Swim Club, Brazil
Colleen Furgeson, Azura, Marshall Islands
Emma Gullstrand, University of Miami, Sweden
Julio Horrego, SOFLO, Honduras
Michelle Lenhardt, Coach, Brazil
Celina Marquez, Azura, El Salvador
Stefano Mitchell, Azura, Antigua & Barbuda
Elinah Phillip, Miami, Florida International, British Virgin Islands
Remedy Rule, University of Miami, Philippines
Mikel Schreuders, NSU University School/Pine Crest, Aruba
Cherelle Thompson, Performance Aquatics, Trinidad & Tobago
Renzo Tjon-A-Joe, Westlake Prep, Coral Springs Swim Club, Suriname
Joaquin Vargas, Azura, Peru
Davidson Vincent, Azura, Haiti

Paige McPherson, Miami, Miami-Dade College, USA
Aliyah Shipman, Plantation, University of Miami, Haiti

Tommy Paul, Delray Beach, USA
Sloane Stephens, Coral Springs, USA
Frances Tiafore, Boynton Beach, USA

Michelle Ahoure, University of Miami alum, Ivory Coast
Nadia Eke, University of Miami, Ghana
Kendall Ellis, Pembroke Pines, USA
Chantal Malone, Miami, Florida International University, British Virgin Islands
Kyron McMaster, Miami, Florida, USA International University, British Virgin Islands
Alysha Newman, University of Miami alum, Canada
Jessica Ramsey, Boynton Beach, USA
Damion Thomas, Boyd Anderson, Jamaica
Joey Scott, Miami, Coach, Haiti

Foluke Akinradewo Gunderson, Fort Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas, USA

Ashleigh Johnson, Miami, Ransom-Everglades, USA
Michael Goldenberg, Coral Springs, official

Alejandro Sancho, Miami, USA

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com


By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, July 19, 2021–The extra work is paying off for Aldo Zepeda.

The 16-year-old moved up to Gold Group and has shown remarkable progress in his swimming including four lifetime best times at last month’s Boca Raton Swim Team Phoenix Meet. He noticed a turning point in his improvement when he moved up to the new group last year.

“I wasn’t always good, I just recently started getting better,” Zepeda said. “Last year I saw a good improvement after I changed groups. I was like, yeah, I really want to get good at this. I like training with the older swimmers and I like racing at practice.

“I moved up to Gold Group and have a lot more hours of training. I’m doing two-a-days and doing extra things outside of swimming, going to the gym and working on strength and cardio. I love doing exercise.”

Zepeda started swimming when he was 4 at South Florida Aquatic Club. He started with Coach George and worked his way up the ladder through the various groups.

“When I was 4 I wanted to do some sort of sport and I chose swimming,” he said. “My passion is swimming. I’ve been with SOFLO since the beginning and I have improved.”

Asked what he likes the most about swimming, Zepeda said “It’s like a never-ending competition to get better. The competition is within myself to further improve on everything. I really am having fun with this.”

At the Boca meet, Zepeda dropped 6.01 seconds off his 100-meter freestyle; 1.48 off his 100-meter butterfly; 5.55 off his 50-meter freestyle; and 4.74 off his 100-meter backstroke. His favorite events are the 100 and 200 backstrokes.

Zepeda said he was happiest with his 100 backstroke at the July 8-11 Southern Zone South Sectionals at Plantation where he dropped three seconds (1:02.43) off his previous best time.

“He’s been doing such a great job and has been very consistent at practice,” said his Gold Group coach Chris Anderson. “He wants to do really well in swimming. He’s been motivated by watching the older swimmers and I think now it’s paying off for him.”

Added Zepeda, “I like working with the Gold Group. It’s great. I love everyone in that group and I really appreciate what my coaches have done for us. I push myself at practice.”

Zepeda is currently training for the July 29-August 1 FGC Senior Championships where he hopes to get a Futures cut.

Swimming has also helped Zepeda outside the pool.

“I feel like compared to my other friends I’ve been able to time manage better with my schedule,” Zepeda said. “I feel like I am more disciplined than other people.”

Zepeda will be a junior at Somerset Academy in Pembroke Pines this fall. Last year he attended Franklin Academy which didn’t have a swim team so he competed for Everglades High School’s swim team. He hopes to make it to states with Somerset and has already started pre-season training.

“I would like to make it to states this year since I didn’t have a state championship last year,” said Zepeda, who qualified for regionals in the 200-yard freestyle as a freshman at Everglades.

Each TYR Swimmer of the Month receives a free TYR backpack.

SOFLO sponsor TYR is a USA manufacturer of recreational and competitive swimwear, caps, goggles, triathlon gear and accessories and one of the nation’s top companies.

TYR, created by athletes, is named for the Norse god of warriors in Germanic mythology. Among its male-sponsored athletes are newly-minted 2020 Olympians Michael Andrew, Tom Shields, Nic Fink, Townley Haas and Jordan Wilimovsky and other elite swimmers Matt Grevers, Maxime Rooney, Jacob Pebley and Ryan Lochte.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com


By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, July 16, 2021–A year ago, Gabriella DeLuna was ready to quit swimming.

“I had a really big downfall when I was 13,” DeLuna said. “I couldn’t improve in anything. I really felt unmotivated and it showed in my times. On Swim Cloud you could see how from 10, 11 and 12 my times kept going up and then 13 hit and it went down because I was going slower than my old times.

“I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to give up. I just felt myself getting slow and didn’t feel like trying as much. I didn’t like the feeling of losing and gaining time.

“I really wanted to get better after I came back from the pandemic. I started training a lot harder. I chose to keep going through. I’m glad I didn’t quit. I am doing much better.”

A year later, the 14-year-old’s improvement has been remarkable after she moved into Gold Group at the end of March after the ISCA meet.

“When I was in Silver I just felt my full potential hadn’t been unlocked yet,” DeLuna said. “I was surrounded by younger people and I was the oldest in the group. I always felt like I had to be the leader.

“When I joined Gold, the practices got harder. I really like hard practices because I think I improve in them. I started wearing a drag suit. I have been pushing myself a lot harder, making sure I don’t miss practices just so I can improve. I really do love swimming.”

DeLuna started swimming at age 7. She participated in gymnastics and basketball but soon discovered swimming was her passion.

“I was in the pool one day in my backyard and I noticed I really liked being in the pool and that’s when I asked to start swimming lessons,” DeLuna said.

DeLuna first swam for the YMCA and then moved to Midtown Weston Aquatics. She has been with South Florida Aquatic Club for a year. She will be a sophomore this fall at Cypress Bay High School where she will compete for the varsity swim team. Last season she had only one meet because of COVID.

“I really like SOFLO,” DeLuna said. “I think this is the team I felt the most welcome. I feel like I am improving a lot. I like being around my teammates. I don’t want to miss practice because I want to see them all the time. A big part of my improvement is because of my teammates. I really do appreciate them. I know if they weren’t there I probably wouldn’t be swimming as good as I am.”

At the June Boca Raton Swim Team Phoenix Meet, DeLuna won all her 13-14 events including the 100-meter freestyle in a best time 1:03.92, dropping 1.85; 100-meter butterfly in 1:08.42; 400-meter individual medley in 5:23.65; 200-meter butterfly in 2:33.99; 100-meter backstroke in 1:12.63; 200 IM in 2:33.84; 200-meter backstroke in a best time 2:28.69, dropping 1.98; 200-meter freestyle in a best time 2:16.85, dropping 3.07; and 100-meter breaststroke in a best time 1:20.13, shaving an impressive 7.85 off her previous best.

“One of my biggest highlights was when I dropped in my 200 back at the Boca meet, I went a 2:28 which is my best time right now,” DeLuna said. “And then the Summer Kickoff at Plantation when I did the 400 IM and beat all the guys.

“I like the competitiveness of the sport and team effort that everyone is always there with you cheering you on,” DeLuna said. “My swim friends are amazing.”

DeLuna was selected to the Florida Gold Coast All-Star team for the July 27-31 USA Swimming Southern Zone Age Group Championships in Tupelo, Miss.

She credits swimming with helping her outside the pool when it comes to time management and discipline.

“I feel like I am way better when it comes to time management,” DeLuna said. “And, my sleep schedule is much more improved since I have mornings and afternoons. I feel swimming makes you aware of everything that’s going on around you. It helps with time management to make sure everything is on point and you don’t miss anything.”

SOFLO head coach Chris Anderson, who coaches Gold Group, has been pleased with her progress and work ethic.

“She’s been doing such a great job as far as attendance especially throughout the summer season,” Anderson said. “She has been very consistent which is why she was given Swimmer of the Month besides the fact her performances were so good and she made zones.

“She is just really focused,” Anderson said. “I think her stepping it up in training, going to the senior program from the age group program, has helped. I think it’s done her well.”

DeLuna is focused on her goals in the sport. “I really want to make Futures cuts for long course and short course,” she said. “And, I really want to swim in college.”

Her big meets coming up are the June 22-25 FGC 14-and-Under Junior Olympics at Sailfish Splash Park in Stuart and July 27-31 Zones in Tupelo, Miss.

Each TYR Swimmer of the Month receives a free TYR backpack.

SOFLO sponsor TYR is a USA manufacturer of recreational and competitive swimwear, caps, goggles, triathlon gear and accessories and one of the nation’s top companies.

TYR, created by athletes, is named for the Norse god of warriors in Germanic mythology. Among its female-sponsored athletes are 2020 Olympians Simone Manuel, Katie Ledecky, Lilly King, Annie Lazor, Ashley Twichell and other elite swimmers Melanie Margalis, Molly Hannis and Kelsi Dahlia.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com