By Sharon Robb

February 16, 2016—Three years ago Kayla Cunningham’s mother enrolled her in a swim camp.

“I really liked it,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham, 12, a seventh grader at Glades Middle School, liked it so much that she decided to swim year-round with South Florida Aquatic Club.

Her progress has been remarkable.

“She has improved tremendously,” said her Bronze Group coach Rose Lockie. “You can tell she loves it.”

While she is laid back at practice with her teammates, she takes it to another level when she competes in meets.

Cunningham was outstanding at the Gator Swim Club Holiday Classic in Gainesville in December. She swam best times in the 200 butterfly and 200 backstroke and earned TYR December Swimmer of the Month for her efforts.

Cunningham won the girls’ 11-12 200-yard butterfly in 2:19.18. She bettered her previous best of 2:26.99 during prelims in 2:17.60 to earn the top seed. Her time drop was 9.39 seconds.

Cunningham was also eighth in the 200-yard freestyle in 2:05.83. In prelims she swam a best time 2:04.09 to earn the seventh seed, a time drop of 2.54 from her previous best.

She was also second in the 200-yard backstroke in a best time 2:13.16 and fourth in the 100-yard backstroke in 1:01.77.

“The kid really knows how to race,” Lockie said. “At practice she is so laid back but at meets she really races. I can always count on her at a meet. She knows how to race.

“She is really passionate about the backstroke,” Lockie said. “She is our fastest backstroker. She is talented and we know in time she will be phenomenal.

“There’s no pressure from her family. They are just there to support her. She is the kind of kid who will stick with it for the long haul. She is here because she wants to be.”

Cunningham enjoyed being with her teammates and competing in Gainesville.

“I really liked it,” Cunningham said. “You could be with your teammates and it was a travel meet. I like being competitive. I was happy and it made me swim well.”

Cunningham has all her JO cuts except the breaststroke.

“I like training,” Cunningham said. “I am trying my best at practice. I am working on good technique. I am working on my hands now. I have a weird thing where I keep my hands in a weird position. I am trying to get out of that habit.”

Cunningham said her goals are to make her sectional cuts and do well in the Silver Group when she moves up.

“I want to do my best at JOs and survive Silver Group,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said she got inspired when she attended a swim clinic that featured Olympians and national-caliber swimmers at SOFLO.

“It was really cool to see them and learn how they swim fast,” Cunningham said. “I got to meet them. I learned how to do a proper backstroke start, how to get out faster and about breathing in the freestyle.

“Since that clinic, I have seen a change in my swimming. I used to be a lot lazier and a procrastinator before I started swimming. Now I know time is really important. I really like swimming and I want to stay with it.”

The TYR Swimmer of the Month award, chosen by the SOFLO coaching staff, is awarded each month to the swimmer who excels at both swim meets and practice sessions. Each TYR Swimmer of the Month will receive a free TYR mini backpack.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com