“It’s not just about swimming,” Lauren Gutowski said of her Lake Forest Yacht Club Swim Team. “It’s about being with good friends. We all grew up together. In fact, I can probably name everyone on this dock.”
Gutowski, 14, was standing amid dozens of young swimmers on Saturday as the club held an inter-squad meet to prepare for the season. Eighty-eight swimmers competed in 54 events through the day, going through the motions as though it was an actual meet against a visiting team.
“The idea is to get the newer swimmers acquainted with the way a meet works,” said Kim Good, whose children swim and who serves on the team’s board. “It also gives parents a feel for how much volunteer help we need.”
And parents are just as much a part of the scene as the young swimmers themselves. “It’s all very family-oriented,” said team board member Tara Maguire. “My kids participate in swimming at the YMCA, too, and this just has a more family feel to it.”
But that does not mean the team takes competition lightly. The swimmers, ages 5 to 18 and from all over the Lake Hopatcong area, train hard under coaches Chris Murarik and Ed Zappile to prepare for the ten meets (five home, five away) that will take place over the course of the summer. They practice daily and work to perfect their strokes, their turns, and, in the case of relays, their team dynamics. “It definitely keeps us in good shape,” said Allie Maguire, 14, who has been swimming on the team for four years.
Like her friends Gutowski, Kelly Brown, and Emma Jackson, all 14, Maguire competes with an indoor team during the school year. “The winter teams are so strict and serious,” said Jackson, who has been swimming at the club for eight years. “lt’s nice to come here and just really enjoy the sport and the team.”
“It’s like a big family,” said Brown, a six-year team veteran.
That sentiment was echoed by countless teammates, including 16-year-old Zach Bagnall of Jefferson, who has been on the team for at least a decade, joking that he supposed he was an “old timer.” “I love everything about this team,” Bagnall said. “It brings you closer to friends, we’ve got wonderful coaches, and the team really supports each other. It’s my second family.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the team’s establishment at the yacht club, though swimmers were organized at Chabon’s prior to 1990. For many of those years, Zappile was a swimmer himself. “I probably swam for 13 years,” said Zappile, who is kicking off his first year as assistant coach. “When I was little, I dreamed of coaching someday, so it’s pretty cool to be here now.”
Following Saturday’s inter-squad meet, the team held an ice cream party—one of many such social events that are sprinkled throughout the season, such as movie night, a trip to Mountain Creek, and a dance party. Casey Obaytek and Mason Godfrey said their favorite part of the season is a trip to the Land of Make Believe. Nine-year-old R.J. Music agreed that the trip is great, but he had a different take on his favorite part of the experience. “I love pushing the coaches in the water,” he said with a laugh.
The Lake Forest Swim Team competes in its first meet against Lake Hopatcong’s other swim team, at the Shore Hills Country Club, on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
One heat in the 54-event inter-squad meet at the Lake Forest Yacht Club on Saturday.