By Eric Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — To see Jimmy Stuart tearing through the pool, you’d never know that he took up competitive swimming just a few years ago.
The Tonawanda High School senior is now a captain on the Warrior swim team, and far and away its most experienced athlete.
But he only decided in seventh grade to make swimming a sport rather than a recreational activity.
“I just liked it and decided to do it,” Stuart said. “I had always liked summer and the water — I thought, why not expand it to a sport?”
So he spent two years in the modified program before moving up to the varsity as a freshman — and he’s been a fixture ever since.
“He’s always listening, and he’s going to excel no matter what,” Tonawanda coach Tim Harroun said. “He’s got an open mind and he’s always looking to improve. And he’s very competitive — he’s emerged as our top stud.”
Harroun says he thinks of all of his swimmers as captains, but beyond that, he says he selected Stuart for a reason.
It was an easy choice, particularly in light of the way the rest of the team responds to him.
“He likes to mellow things out and settle everyone down,” Harroun said. “He’s very good at getting everyone to focus on what they need to be doing.”
With a roster of around a dozen swimmers, the Warriors are often outgunned against other teams before they ever start.
But that doesn’t get the team down, Stuart says. The key is to keep everyone trying to do their best.
“It’s a challenge,” Stuart said. “I’ve got to lead, push, encourage — but I’ve also got to make sure I don’t lose my own focus. I’ve learned how to balance that while still working on my own goals.”
Stuart is a sprinter by trade, typically competing in the 50 and 100 freestyle races, as well as in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
He went to sectionals last year in the 50 and wound up in the top 25. He’s already punched his ticket for a return trip to sectionals this season.
“Having been there before — it prepares me more,” Stuart said. “I understand better what to expect and what I have to train for. I know how hard I have to push myself.”
His best time so far this year in the 50 is 23.11, comfortably below the sectional qualifying time of 23.88. And now he’s aiming even higher, having pulled to within a second of the magic qualifying time for the state tournament, 22.27.
But he’s never lost sight of the fact that swimming has always been a labor of love.
“I’ve learned to enjoy the sport more,” Stuart said. “I’ve never gotten tired of it — in fact, it’s one of the things I look forward to the most. It’s a privilege and a passion.”Find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.