The Stuttgart Piranhas swim team has kicked off another season of competition in the European Forces Swim League. Coaches and team members look forward to defending their Rheinland Divisional championship title, improving their times and having fun.
“This is the best group in the Stuttgart vicinity,” said Kara Louk, head coach. “We have about a hundred dedicated kids who get up at 5 [a.m.] to do an athletic sport. These kids are swimming hard. They attack the water in meets from September to February.”
Their commitment alone is impressive. Team members (ages 6 to 19) swim for three to five weekday mornings, beginning as early as 5:30 a.m.
Swimmers ages 13 and older also participate in dry land training three evenings each week. They spend every weekend in the water, either practicing starts, finishes and turns, or traveling to meets.
Coaches quiz team members on the times they need to qualify at the EFSL championships. For example, boys ages 8 and under need to swim the 50 meter freestyle event in 48.13 seconds or less. For boys ages 17 and up, the time drops to a mere 29.29 seconds.
The team will compete in 15 meets in Germany, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. Each family will volunteer at least 30 hours, doing community service, raising funds and hosting meets. Even during the off-season, 75 team members swam every other morning during spring training, from February to June.
A further 24 team members spent nine days in Mittersill, Austria, at the prestigious Alpineswim summer camp, one of the rare times that the camp’s organizers allowed members of a single team to train together. The early morning training sessions can be a challenge.
Team co-captain Katie Oldham, 17, said “It’s hard getting up so early, and I do wish my parents would sleep through their alarm. But once I’ve finished my workout, it’s great. Waking up so early can really create self-discipline. And swimming? It’s just what I love to do.” Co-captain Brenna Cashman, 16, added that swimming builds discipline and motivation.
“When you’re in the water, it’s just you and the clock. It’s all about pushing yourself and being self-motivated,” she said. Four other co-captains lead the team: Jason Baer, Melissa Call, Daniel Gum and Marina Zielinski.
The hard work has forged bonds among the teammates. “What’s special about the Piranhas is that it’s a military team so the kids have learned more flexibility [in facing personal challenges],” said Joseph Viana, 16. “The parents are TDY, or maybe the moms are gone, but the coaches make the best of what we have to offer. And we military kids know how to make friends really easily.”
Anthony LoGrande, 15, added “We’re all in the same community, so we know each other from school, and from living in the same towns or on base. We’re more involved in the same activities together.”
The team cohesion promotes a friendly, comfortable atmosphere, according to Abigail Argo, 13. “We have a big range of ages and swimmers, not like other teams I’ve been in. But everybody interacts and is friendly.” Throughout the season, coaches encourage team members to develop in swimming ability, as well as maturity.
“I love the transition from the beginning of the season to the end,” Louk, the head coach, said. “What you see in the water in September is not what you see at the championships.
“It’s like pottery — you start with a little lump of clay, and by the time you’re done, it’s a beautiful trophy.”
The team’s first home meet of the season will at the Maichingen Gartenhallenbad on Sept. 24. For more information, visit www.stuttgartpiranhas.org.