For more than a quarter of a century, the South Florida Recreational Swim League has been providing its swimmers an opportunity to compete and have fun in meets.
The program, which recently wrapped up its 26th season with the championship meet, kicked things off in May with more than 800 boys and girls participating in divisions from an 8-under age group to high school swimmers.
This summer has been an especially memorable one for Parkland’s Emily Chen, who recently broke the league record for the 50-yard backstroke in the girls’ 11-12 age group. Her clocking of 30:14 was nearly a second faster than the mark set in 2007.
“That was pretty exciting,” said Chen, 12, who swims for the Deerfield Dolphins and is a seventh-grade student at Westglades Middle School. “It was a shock.”
Chen said her goals and expectations have changed over her years in the pool.
“At first it was just for fun, and now it is about reaching a goal,” said Chen, who devotes at least four or five days a week to her sport. “I just try and do my best. Even if I don’t win, it is just good to (set the record), and that is part of the challenge.”
Chen said it’s beneficial to compete in the South Florida Recreational Swim League.
“The rec league is more flexible, where USA Swimming (programs) are probably more time consuming,” Chen said. “You can live a normal life and you are not as committed in the rec league, I guess. It is a little more fun.”
Chen hopes to swim in high school and college, and “it would be awesome if I did make it to the Olympics.”
Another local swimmer for the Deerfield Dolphins, Christopher Uzzo, also enjoyed a standout season in the pool and saw his performance improve with each meet.
“I broke all my times in the 50-yard freestyle, the 50-yard backstroke and the 50-yard breaststroke,” said the 15-year-old Uzzo, who lives in Coconut Creek and is a sophomore at Zion Lutheran School in Deerfield Beach. “I improved by a second in the freestyle and breaststroke and improved two seconds in the backstroke.”
Uzzo looks forward to swimming in the summer program.
“Swimming allows you to really focus on yourself, and the fitness of it is demanding, too,” Uzzo said. “In the rec program, it is like a family, and everyone cares about each other.”
Uzzo also has lofty aspirations.
“My goal is to get into college and to get a scholarship,” he said.
Fort Lauderdale’s Regan Byrne, 17, took a brief hiatus from swimming in the league and returned to the pool this year. The senior at Cardinal Gibbons High School swims for the Boca Mantas program and her high school team.
“I like the workout,” said Byrne, who would like to get a swimming scholarship. “It’s fun. I like competing. It makes me feel better about myself. It pushes me more, and it helps me become so much more confident.”
There are two other seasons besides the summer season. The fall season runs from August to November, while the spring season begins in January and continues through April. Each season ends with an awards ceremony and trophy presentation.
More important than the pomp and circumstance, however, is that the youths come away with a positive experience. They can enter their school years knowing that they made the most of their summer break — at least as far as swimming is concerned.
“It’s incredible,” said Tyrene Morgans, secretary of the South Florida rec program. “… It gives the kids an opportunity to come and compete in a safe and encouraging environment.”
Gary Curreri can be reached at SportsCom5@aol.com.