A sport with no boundaries

More than 60 high school swimmers practice at LaCamas Swim & Sport

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Swimming facilities in Clark County are getting more crowded by the minute.

Camas High School and North County swim teams head coach Mike Bemis sees more than 60 swimmers a day from Camas, Washougal, Prairie, Hockinson, Battle Ground and Woodland. It’s a lot for one coaching staff to handle, but Bemis wants to see more boys and girls getting their feet wet in a sport that seems to have no boundaries in the rainy state of Washington.

Bemis said this is one of the largest boys swimming teams has ever coached. He counts 35 athletes from Camas, 21 from Hockinson and 12 from Battle Ground, Prairie, Washougal and Woodland. Although Camas had plenty of swimmers by the time he took over the program, Bemis has watched the other North County schools gain significant numbers in the last few years. Just look at Hockinson.

“It started with three, then grew to six, and then from 6 to 12 and 12 to 21,” Bemis said. “We hope to continue to get more kids from the other schools and build those numbers out. If we could get 10 to 20 kids from each school, we could have a 100 or more in the water.”

By then, they might reach a tipping point.

“If we can get more than 100 kids out for swimming, maybe we can get another pool built in the area,” Bemis said. “If you have 100 kids out for high school swimming, which is considered the pinnacle and the top of the mountain, there are probably 200 to 250 younger kids swimming right below them. That gives you quite a base to draw from, and it just keeps growing.”

Seniors Alastair Graham, Nick Kabel and Ian Ulmer lead this year’s crop of Camas swimmers. Nathan Milojevic and Geer McGee are representing Washougal.

Bemis said the new batch of freshmen has the potential to become one of the best classes to come through this program. It will be up to the three Camas captains to harness that potential.

“This is our last chance to make a big impression for Camas,” Kabel said. “I’ve been swimming with these guys for a long time in high school and in club. It’s exciting for all of us to be together for one season. It’s our one chance to pound it out and see how far we can go at state.”

The Papermakers rose to 23rd place at state last season. This year, Graham believes they can crack into the top 10. And if they do something crazy, like get two teams of four qualified for state in all three relay races for the first time, they could climb even further up the ladder.

“We want to do things in a pool that Camas has never done before, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication on everybody’s part,” Graham said. “As captain, it’s my duty to put in all the work I can to be the best I can.

“Not many people appreciate how hard it is to be a swimmer,” he added. “If I could just have them try and swim one lap in a pool, they would know the difference. Not many people can swim two or three laps without getting tired, and we swim hundreds of them every day.”

Graham said he will miss how hard swimming is, but he’ll also remember how great it is.

“When I step on the board to dive in, I’m focused and in-the-zone on what I need to do and how fast I’m going to swim,” he said. “There’s nothing else quite like it. Especially in those 25 meters, when your arms are giving out and you’re just kicking with everything you have left. The cheers from the fans that are pulling for you give you that extra oomph.

“It’s all about that extra oomph,” Graham added. “Whoever has it wins the race.”

Kabel fidgets with his goggles before a race. Once he steps on the board, there’s no turning back.

“I’m a wreck before, but when I’m up there, I’m calm,” he said. “At that point, there’s nothing more you can do to be prepared. Just go and give you’re all, and win.”

Once he’s in the water, Kabel feels limitless. Killer instinct takes over.

“You know what you have to do. Just leave all your worries and cares behind and give all your energy,” he said. “There’s no time to worry, just swim.”

Beyond the competition, there is also a lot of fun to be had in the water.

“With swimming, you have the freedom to go anywhere,” Kabel said. “You’re not just going back and forth. You can go up and you can go down, and you can do all sorts of back flips and twists. It’s so easy.”

No wonder this sport has no boundaries, even in a state where it rains.