If you ask the swimmers in the Rockford Marlins organization about their goals, you'll hear the phrase "Olympic Trials" mentioned almost every time. That's because the Marlins give kids of all ages the resources necessary to pursue that dream.
"Realistically, there are going to be 1,800 swimmers at Olympic Trials this year," said Marlins head coach Luke Towry. "There's roughly 320,000 swimmers in America, so it's tremendously difficult to do it. But we think we offer them the structure they need to have a chance."
The Marlins are a progressive swimming organization that offers high-level and Olympic-caliber training in Rockford. Between a stringent training schedule, detailed instruction and countless laps in the pool, the life of a competitive swimmer can be a grueling one.
"I think it's pretty tough with the double practices, the workouts and all that stuff," said Courtney Gray of Belvidere North. "But practice makes perfect. You keep adding more to your routine. When I was a little kid, I didn't go to 10 practices a week, I went to two."
Two practices a day can wear on even the most physically fit swimmers, but the reward of being able to compete in national meets as part of USA Swimming is satisfying for those looking to compete at the highest level.
"When you go to a big meet, to be able to qualify for Olympic Trials, you're used to the pressure," said Jack Tribble of Boylan Catholic. "You're used to racing against people as fast as you or faster, so you're used to the atmosphere.
"It's a lot of fun because you get to see your friends from other teams and make new friends from different teams," said Olivia Cacciatore of Belvidere North. "The national meets are really your chance to connect with people from different areas."
Cacciatore echoes the Marlins' sentiment at the core of their mission statement. Competitive swimming can be grueling, but at the end of the day, Towry wants his swimmers to take much more away from the team than just final results.
"I think everyone knows what it feels like to put a lot of work into something, accomplish it, and get that sense of gratification," Towry said. "So yes, it can be very challenging and it can be very demanding on them, but ultimately, they all love it."
And of course, they have fairly big aspirations.
Tribble: "I want to be able to go to Olympic Trials one day and compete against the best."
Gray: "My goal is to swim at the highest level possible, which hopefully is Olympic Trials."
Cacciatore: "Long term, I would really love to make it to Olympic Trials some day."
Though the Marlins have been very close several times, they've never been able to claim an Olympic swimmer.
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