Murphy’s McCloskeys have made swimming a family affair

As younger girls, Claire and Kaelee McCloskey never really wanted to be anywhere but at the swimming pool.

Of course, they never really had much choice.

With two parents who are former college swimmers, with a dad who is a longtime coach, and with two older sisters who are currently swimming collegiately, being at the pool is what the McCloskeys do. And it’s been that way since Claire and Kaelee were just tykes.

“They grew up at the pool,” said dad Mike McCloskey, the girls swimming coach at Archbishop Murphy High School. “In fact, all my kids grew up on the pool deck. They just sat there, breathing chlorine. They thought it was normal being around a pool. And when the oldest two liked it, these two (Claire and Kaelee) didn’t know any different.”

Claire and Kaelee first got in the water at 2 or 3 months old — “Just playing, splashing and having fun,” said their dad — and they’ve been there ever since. And this weekend they will lead Archbishop Murphy to the Class 2A state swimming and diving championships at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

Claire, a senior who is making her fourth trip to state, will swim the 100-meter butterfly and 500 freestyle. Kaelee, a freshman, will compete in the 100 backstroke and 500 freestyle. They will also swim together on the 200 medley relay (Kaelee will lead off in the backstroke and Claire will swim third in the butterfly) and the 400 freestyle relay.

And their dad, who is also their coach, will be there cheering them on.

Some athletes might be uncomfortable with a parent as a coach — for that matter, some parents might not want to coach their own kids — but for the McCloskeys it seems to work. Mike McCloskey has been coaching for years, including previous high school head coaching jobs at Lakeside and Seattle Prep, and along the way he helped coach older daughters Meaghan, now a senior at Idaho, and No. 2 daughter Molly, a sophomore at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.

Mike McCloskey, who swam at Oregon State (his wife Laurie swam at Washington State), took a job as development director at Archbishop Murphy in the fall of 2006, and two years later he helped start the school’s swimming program. A year later he was coaching Claire, and this year Kaelee joined the team.

“It’s nice having my two daughters to coach,” he said. “They’ve always been hard workers, which has made it easy. … It’s never been a problem. If they were sassy or had attitudes, it might’ve been. But they’ve always been examples of the type of team I’d like to build.”

“I’ve liked (swimming for Dad),” Claire said. “Another coach might not know your whole personal life, but my dad knows what’s going on with everything. He knows if I’ve been stressed out about something.”

“I think it’s easier to talk to him if I have a problem,” agreed Kaelee. “With my other coaches, you don’t know if they’re going to yell at you. But with my dad, it comes more naturally.”

At the pool, both girls agree, their dad is careful not to show favoritism. “He doesn’t treat us any differently (than the other girls),” Claire said. “We don’t get any special treatment.”

And that is a priority, Mike McCloskey said, because “everybody who joins our team is important, whether you’re the best swimmer or just a beginner.”

But around the house, or in the car traveling to and from workouts, the three have a special connection. The hours they spend together because of swimming have forged a unique and precious bond.

“We’ve definitely become closer in the last four years,” Claire said. “The car rides, too, because I drive with him to school and we have our little inside jokes. I’ve had him start listening to country music, too, so I’m very happy about that.”

“I see him a lot more,” Kaelee agreed. “And I’ve gotten closer with him more because I used to not see him that much.” In other years the two had different schedules, “so when I was gone, he’d be home. And when he was home, I’d be gone. So it’s nice to see him more than I did before.”

But if the time together is important to the girls, it is equally true for their father.

“From a dad’s perspective, it’s a special time.” Mike McCloskey said. “Especially in our family because we have six kids. But this gives me the chance to be one-on-one or one-on-two with my kids. We can have a special ‘Daddy time,’ and I wouldn’t replace it for anything.”

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