BRISTOL — The Addison Otters Swim Team’s 40th season has proved to be a memorable one, with many of the team’s 61 members qualifying for championship meets and organizers making a number of upgrades to operations, equipment and fundraising.
According to its organizers, the Addison Otters Swim Team (AOST), which practices five days a week at the Mount Abraham Union High School pool from October through March, is a competitive team that focuses on providing instruction and training in ways that encourage and support all swimmers to achieve their highest potential.
Along with training to improve swimming technique, members have the opportunity to learn self-discipline and sportsmanship along with a strong sense of responsibility and independence, while developing a greater appreciation for the sport that they enjoy, organizers said.
The team is a member of the Adirondack Swim League and competes in meets in both Vermont and New York, with season-ending championship meets held at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., the first and third weekends of March.
The first of the championship meets, or Silvers, was open to all swimmers. The Golds Championship, which will be contested this weekend, is limited to swimmers who have achieved challenging qualifying, or “gold,” times, which are set each year by the league.
Twenty AOST swimmers swam at Silvers this year, with most achieving personal best times. They were 8-year-old or younger team members Alli Croke, Annabelle Doucet and Evan Roy; U-10 swimmers Leah Croke, Emma Huestis, Sadie Kass, Karyn Kenfield, Robert Kenfield, Shea McLauren, Abigail Roy and Tess Ruddy; U-12 swimmersEmma Beauchemin and Oliver Roy;U-14 members Alyse Beauchemin, Olivia Hawkins and Sophie Rippner-Donovan; and U-18 swimmers Robin Kuhns, Cassie Mayer, Katie Mayer and Samara Sausville.
Six of those swimmers qualified for the Gold meet: Alli and Leah Croke, Rooney, Ruddy, Sarah Rathbun, and Katie Mayer. Mayer, a Mount Abe sophomore, this year broke the AOST all-time female record for the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races with times of 26.22 and 58.43 seconds, respectively.
At the same time, organizers say all 61 members play important roles on the team: Older swimmers often help younger teammates at practice with stroke technique and encourage them at meets. About 65 percent of the members competed at meets this winter, while others worked to develop their skills or chose to swim without competing.
Out of the pool, organizers listed several club accomplishments:
• For the first time, all registration, swim-meet signup and communication was done totally through the team website (addisonotters.com).
• A much-needed Policies and Procedures book was created and put on the website to help swimmers and parents become familiar with and understand what is involved with being a member of the team.
• AOST’s dry-land program was enhanced.
• A new fundraising incentive was introduced to give families an option to organize a fundraiser and have half of the proceeds applied toward their membership dues.
• On Feb. 15, a fun meet, pizza party and dessert auction was held to celebrate the replacement of battered backstroke flags and an upgrade to the starting blocks.
At the same time, not everything needed changing, organizers said.
Head coach Peter Bicknell has been coaching AOST since 1990. Bicknell was a member of the team from 1973 to 1985, after which he swam at the University of Vermont from 1986 to 1990. There, he held records in the 50 and 200 free and several relays.
According to Bicknell, “To succeed in the sport of swimming, an athlete must possess three things: dedication, both to hard work and technique, a commitment to physical and mental training, and a desire to achieve their best. They are a team, but compete as individuals. There’s no one to pass to, no one to sub in.”
Bicknell explained why he has stayed with AOST for 22 years:
“I have been honored and awed to witness what our athletes are capable of when they believe in themselves, push through physical and mental challenges and get their personal best in any event. The (team) has many athletes who possess these qualities. Their desire to achieve, their commitment to excellence and the joy they have for the sport is why I coach.”
Katie Mayer, a 15-year-old Bristol resident, credits Bicknell for helping her on the way to become the team’s fastest female swimmer and to recover from a 2011 car accident that led to a disappointing season last year.
“The team has been a safe place for me for a bunch of reasons. Coach Peter has taken the time to get to know me and appreciates my goofy and high-energy personality. He also realizes we all have strengths and limitations. He knows when to push his athletes and when to be understanding of what is going on in our lives,” Mayer said. “After our car accident, I went through a really frustrating time because I couldn’t run on the cross-country team and couldn’t swim as much as I wanted to. I will never forget how much he encouraged me through that tough time.”
Mayer began her swimming career when she was five. She broke longstanding team records in all of the younger age groups and is targeting more records in the future after making eight straight Gold meet appearances.
She said the coach, the sport and the Addison Otters all mean a lot to her.
“It was because of Coach Peter’s confidence in me that I am able to be so successful. I was on cloud nine after I broke the 50 and 100 free records. My hard work and perseverance and Coach Peter’s encouragement is paying off,” Mayer said. “More important than the records is that I thoroughly enjoy swimming and am having fun on the team.”