Hundreds of swimmers and their supporters from across the western United States journeyed to the center of the city Wednesday to enjoy the first day of the four-day USA Swimming Futures Championships, hosted by Canyons Aquatic Club at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center.
The large outdoor facility was buzzing with activity between the coaches — wearing their hats and sunglasses and holding timers — and the high school and collegiate athletes — adorned in their swim caps and goggles, ready to reenter the pool, and receiving guidance over the sound of upbeat music.
This is the biggest meet that the Canyons Aquatic Club has participated in since the start of the pandemic, according to Kevin Neilsen, the local club’s coach.
“They’re a little fatigued and tired because it’s been a long, challenging year,” he said of the 800 participating athletes. “But I do know the athletes always find a way to overcome some of those challenges, and they’re going to race hard.”
Neilsen said the week’s event is the kind that features “really good swimming.”
“There are the kids that will be qualifying for nationals, internationals, (and) eventually Olympic trials,” he said. “If you want to see something special, come out and support the kids.”
This event represents the last meet of the season for many teams, according to Michael Lee, of Stevenson Ranch, who will be swimming in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly over the next three days.
“It’s a really competitive atmosphere, but I feel the swimmers here are having a lot of fun while also racing their best,” Lee said.
Lee and his teammate, Jason Hawkins, also of Stevenson Ranch, were on their way to one of two practice pools at the aquatic center, where swimmers had the opportunity to warm up before their races in the main pool.
“The atmosphere (has been) really lively here,” said Hawkins, who competed in the 100-meter breaststroke. “I think everyone has the goal of swimming fast and they did.”
Among those fast swimmers was the daughter of Nonglack Dodson, of Oregon. Dodson was one of hundreds of spectators in the stands Wednesday afternoon gearing up to watch the final races of the day.
“She made finals and she’s excited about that and excited to be here,” Dodson said of her daughter. “The weather is hot but its bearable for the kids because they get to swim outside. It’s their environment.”
Brian McCoy, of Washington state, and his wife were also in the stands in advance of their son’s finals race.
“It’s really a beautiful pool and a great facility, and we’ve really enjoyed Santa Clarita since arriving,” McCoy said of his day. “The people are really friendly.”
On deck, swim teams were cheering on their teammates in the pool as they raced to the finish. On either side of the pool, groups of swimmers yelled “go, go, go” as they waved on their teammates in the pool.
“We really pride ourselves and focus on being cheerful and trying to be on deck for every swim, whether it’s prelims or finals,” said Weston Crewe, a member of the Bellevue Swim Club in Washington state.
Santa Clarita Councilwoman Marsha McLean greeted coaches, athletes and their families with a hearty welcome to Santa Clarita before the day’s finals.
“The week actually marked the first time that Santa Clarita has hosted this prestigious event, and I hope we get to do it for a lot more years,” she said, wishing the athletes the best of luck. “This facility is the optimal location for the Futures Championships and, after swimming here this week, you’ll see why it is regarded as one of the best aquatic centers in Southern California.”