For rising Etowah senior Hannah Martin and rising Woodstock freshman Lauren Case, members of the Woodstock-based Chattahoochee Gold swim club, a spot on the national team and a trip to the London Olympics may be too tall of an order for next week’s meet, but qualifying in itself was quite a thrill.
“Ever since I got my cut time, I’ve been really excited to go,” Martin said. “It’s all just been really exciting.”
The trials begin Monday and last through July 2. The two Cherokee County athletes will represent the Chattahoochee Gold program with Zach Bunner, a swimmer at Lassiter High School.
“We’re really excited to have these kids represent us, especially three kids high school and younger,” said Chattahoochee Gold head coach Mark Schilling. “It’s a big honor. It takes a lot of years of hard training to make it to this level, and, even with that, it’s no guarantee you make it to this level.”
Martin secured her spot at the trials with a time of 2 minutes, 17.63 seconds in the 200-meter backstroke last July at the Senior Long Course State Meet at Georgia Tech, and she has been working hard ever since to bring down her time and improve her seeding within the trials.
Case — still only 13 years old — posted her qualifying cut time of 2:15.81 in the 200 butterfly in March at the Senior Sectional Meet in Greensboro, N.C., where Bunner also qualified in the 100 backstroke.
Martin and Bunner were two of the 11 team members who recently underwent a special three-week training session in Flagstaff, Ariz., at one of the highest-altitude pools in the country — nearly 7,000 feet above sea level — which both credited as a uniquely valuable experience.
“The whole point is to build up red blood cells so, when you come back to sea level, you have more oxygen,” Martin said. “We were out of breath after warmups the first week, but, after that, it got easier. The practices were still really hard, but it helped a lot.”
Case is one of just five swimmers nationwide to have qualified for this year’s trials at the age of 13, and although she has competed at a separate age group for her club, she has earned the respect of her older teammates.
“She’s so humble. She’s not the type of girl who would brag to you,” Martin said of Case. “I just think it’s really impressive. She’s got to be one of the youngest in the country going.”
Against many older and more experienced swimmers in Omaha, the primary goal for each of these first-time representatives will be to surpass their personal best times. Still, the swimmers will have plenty of opportunities to appreciate the significance of simply making it to Omaha.
Martin, for one, said she will be bringing her camera, trying to snap pictures of such swimming greats as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Natalie Coughlin.
“We tell them to enjoy the experience and have fun and take it all in knowing that, in four years, they’ll be back there and have another opportunity to do some damage,” Schilling said.
Former Etowah standout Alec Cohen, who just finished his freshman season at Georgia, qualified for the trials in four events — 200-meter individual medley, 400 IM, 200 freestyle, 400 freestyle — at last summer’s state sectionals in Athens.
Cohen, who was competing for the Marietta-based Stingrays program, won both freestyles and the 200 IM.