Local kids dream of Olympics with every stroke, flip and swing

When Lynnae George bounces on the diving board at the McCollum Pool near Everett, she pretends she’s an Olympic diver. Picturing graceful somersaults and perfectly extended legs, the 11-year-old splashes into the drink, belly-first.

Eight-year-old John Ryan Wilson watches the Olympics each night for more than entertainment. The red-haired Everett boy is gleaning training tips for his planned future career as an Olympic athlete. He believes he has a good shot at making the baseball team.

As 11-year-old Marissa Borders dribbles a soccer ball between cones in her Mill Creek back yard, she dreams of gold medals. Her yard becomes the Olympic stadium, roaring with fans cheering for her.

For kids in Snohomish County and around the world, the Olympics kindle dreams of greatness. Unlike many adults, they haven’t lost the willingness to picture themselves in red, white and blue uniforms, winning medals for their country.

Watching 16-year-old gymnasts leap to Olympic glory and teenage swimmers slice through the Olympic pool, the impossible seems within reach.

“I want to be an Olympic swimmer,” said 14-year-old Arika Stapp of Everett, shivering in her swimsuit on the side of McCollum Pool. “I like the way the girls do the flips and swim backward and do their little mermaid thingy. I really want to do that.”

She was one of several kids attempting underwater turns on a 75-degree day at the pool last week. Lynnae also practiced pushing off the pool wall and pumping her feet like a dolphin. Watching American gold medalist Michael Phelps smash world records underwater, she decided to take swimming more seriously and is now considering joining a swim team.

“It’s fun to watch them and to imagine how fast they’re going and how proud everyone must be of them,” Lynnae said, goggles in hand. “Just being able to go that fast would be amazing.”

Dreams of Olympic gold are plentiful, but the mix of natural talent, dedication and luck needed to make it to the Olympics is much harder to come by, said Whidbey Island resident Jill Cramer.

She knows what it takes, because she had it. Cramer swam for Great Britain in the ‘64 Olympic games in Tokyo and again in the ‘68 games in Mexico City. She finished fifth in the 200-meter breaststroke as a 19-year-old in Tokyo.

As a kid, she never dreamed of competing in the Olympics. She didn’t start swimming until she was 12. And even when she became a serious Olympic contender, she swam in public pools, dodging recreational swimmers. She met with her coach once a week and trained alone for two and a half hours each day. To support herself during her Olympic quest, she worked as a printer, hairdresser and cutlery maker, bending forks and knives for her family’s business.

Today, Olympic swimmers train sequestered in private pools with coaches, scientists and nutritionists guiding them.

Still, in order to make it big, dreamers need the same natural ability and drive as Olympians from years past, said Cramer, 63.

“Set a goal and then break it down into manageable sections,” she advised. “I can remember when the possibility of being an Olympic athlete was absolutely daunting. … Just keep going when you have bad days or bad swims. Know that you cannot do your personal best every day. Just keep going. It’s the struggle of getting there and competing. If it was easy, anybody would do it.”

John Ryan Wilson says he’s willing to work hard, and he hopes he has enough talent to make it to the Olympics one day. He watches the games every day — any sport that’s on.

“I think it’s a great way to strengthen your muscles and a great way for the kids to learn how they’ll do their jobs and be great athletes,” John said. “It helps kids learn their jobs because they could be basketball players or boxers or gymnasts or swimmers. I might be in the Olympics because I play baseball. I’m a good baseball player.”

Raif Lisko finds inspiration watching all different kinds of people from all over the world gather together peacefully.

The 12-year-old Snohomish boy idolizes U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps. He also loves watching track and field athletes throw the hammer and leap into a pole vault pit.

Though he’s never held an actual pole-vaulting pole, he believes that one day, he could be an Olympic pole vault champion. Inspired by Olympic vaulters, he has practiced with makeshift equipment.

“I’ve done it in my back yard,” he said. “I had a big stick. It was bamboo and was really bendy.”

Riley and Mackenzie Aiken love watching Olympic gymnastics. Their grandma, Sandy Morrill, tapes the events when they’re on past the sisters’ bedtime.

Riley, 8, and Mackenzie, 6, watch mesmerized as girls in leotards prance on the balance beam and vault themselves into the air. The Everett girls are budding gymnasts themselves, but they don’t foresee Olympic gold in their future, because “it’s too hard,” Mackenzie said.

“When they’re watching gymnastics, they’re all ‘Ooh. Look at that,’ and giggling and really keying in on it,” said their mom, Cindy Aiken. “They’ll get up and try to do the dance moves.”

The games sometimes inspire kids to consider sports they’ve never heard of before, such as synchronized swimming, handball and fencing.

Ten-year-old Brian Kim of Lynnwood has decided to take up water polo, but until he finds a team, he’ll have to stick to swim lessons at the Lynnwood Recreation Center. He also dreams of playing pitcher, left field and “maybe second base” on an Olympic baseball team.

Watching the competition, he’s filled with pride for both his native U.S. and Korea.

“I speak Korean and my family’s from Korea,” he said. “I would be really excited to see them play. Go USA-Korea!”

Olympic dreams have prompted 8-year-old Johnny Larsen to adopt a training regimen he hopes will launch him to Michael Phelps’ status one day.

“I’m practicing every week to be a good swimmer — that way if I’m in the deep end of the ocean I can swim to shore if I’m panicking,” he said preparing to jump into the pool. “The Olympics inspires me. That’s what I want to do — to be a superstar. I want to be a superstar swimmer!”

To some, Johnny’s dream may seem far-fetched. But like thousands of other kids who are preparing in their own little ways for Olympic fame, Johnny believes that with hard work, anything is possible.

Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or kmanry@heraldnet.com.

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