Swimmers test their limits

Camas boys are making a splash on local, state and national levels

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John Utas charges through the water in the 100-meter breaststroke. The Camas High School senior earned the third most points at the Sprint Pentathlon Saturday, at the Dick Mealy Memorial Pool, in Longview.

Adrenaline is John Utas’ ally, but it can also be his adversary.

He’s one of the fastest swimmers on the Camas High School team, but his ability to recover in time for his next race remains a constant uphill battle.

Utas walks around the pool and shakes his muscles, trying to get the feeling back in his arms. He uses a small oxygen tank to regulate his breathing. He also consumes energy drinks and glucose when necessary.

“Doctors are still looking into it,” Utas said. “I’m not getting enough oxygen in my body to pump up. It makes it harder for me to recover after races, and it also restricts me from swimming long distances.”

Despite these challenges, Utas is big key for Papermakers in the 50-meter freestyle and the 100 breaststroke, as well as the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay events. His friends on the high school team and the Columbia River Swim Club make these exhausting meets worth it to him. Plus, he loves to compete.

“Just the adrenaline and emotion of moving through the water as fast as I can,” Utas said. “And the people I get to meet. I have great friends at Camas and in the club. It’s a very big part of my life.”

Utas turned to swimming full time after he was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. A small piece in the back of his skull had to be removed to clear a blockage of spinal fluid. After the surgery, he could no longer participate in contact sports.

“My choices were tennis, swimming, or track and field. I chose swimming,” Utas said. “I enjoyed going to club practices. Soon after that, it became competitive.”

Not much has changed. On Saturday, Utas scored the third most points at the Sprint Pentathlon, in Longview. He earned first place in the 25 free (11.64 seconds) and the 25 individual medley (12.45), second place in the 100 breaststroke (1:04.75) and third place in the 25 backstroke (13.51) for a combined total of 55 points.

Tom Utas, John’s brother, tied for fourth place at the meet with 54 points. He won the 100 freestyle with a state qualifying time 49.93 seconds. He also finished in first place in the 25 backstroke (13.21), and second place in the 50 free (23.25) and the 25 breaststroke (14.98).

John and Tom Utas complement each other in the water.

“He surprises me, sometimes,” John said. “He’s a lot faster in the 50 and the 100 free. I’m proud of him.”

“I have to appreciate it this year,” Tom added. “We only have a few more months before he graduates.”

Camas defeated Mark Morris 89-79 and R.A. Long 112-35 Dec. 9, in Longview. John and Tom Utas, Lucas Ulmer and Luke Albert won the 200 medley relay with a state qualifying time of 1:43.66. Ulmer also finished first and earned state qualifying times in the 100 butterfly (54.07 seconds) and the 100 backstroke (55.66 seconds).

Ulmer, John Utas and Kasey Calwell have been solid contributors to this program since they were freshmen. Now they are seniors leading a deep group of underclassmen.

“We’re hoping for top five at the state meet. Maybe better,” said head coach Mike Bemis. “I could see us taking our biggest team to state. Possibly 10 to 12 guys, which would be exciting.”

Camas swimmer gains national exposure

Kasey Calwell set four personal best times at the Speedo Winter Junior National Championships Thursday through Saturday, at the King County Aquatic Center, in Federal Way.

The Camas High School senior clinched 53rd place in the 100 breaststroke (57.09), 54th place in the 400 individual medley (4:01.76), 69th place in the 200 breaststroke (2:05.81) and 83rd place in the 200 individual medley (1:53.12).

Calwell felt honored to represent the Columbia River Swim Club. He could hear his future University of California-Santa Barbara teammates, coaches and parents cheering him on through every stroke.

“That’s the best part,” Calwell said. “The times are great, but it’s all about the memories.”