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RANGELY I During the summer, 15-year-old Angelica “Geli” Brown puts in about three-and-a-half hours in the pool each day. Depending on her team’s schedule, she’ll swim “ladders,” or sets of increasingly longer lengths, to build endurance.
Brown will do multiple sprints of 100 or 200 meters, with just seconds of rest in between. Following two pool practices, she’ll spend an hour on “dry lands,” or strength and cardio training exercises outside of the pool.
On average, Brown and her teammates put in around 12,000 meters a day — the equivalent of nearly 7-1/2 miles of swimming.
Brown is part of a year-round swim program, the YMCA Spartanburg Sea Cucumbers (YSSC), in Spartanburg, S.C., a suburb of Greenville. Since January, she’s broken five state records for girls aged 15 to 18.
On Saturday, she took 10th place at the Clemson University-sponsored Open Water State Championships, swimming five kilometers (3.1 miles) across South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.
She also holds multiple records in all four swimming strokes with the Rangely Hurricanes, the team that got her started in summer club swimming in 2005 and ignited her dream to one day swim for a college and, someday, in the Olympics.
Not a bad start for a girl who wanted nothing to do with swim team as a 7-year-old.
Brown moved to Rangely with her parents, Vicki and Phillip, in 2004, when Phil became the Colorado Northwestern Community College dental hygiene program’s clinic dentist. Though Geli had made friends at school and church the previous year, the Browns thought she would be a good fit for the Rangely Hurricanes in the summer of 2005.
Geli disagreed. She cried before her first competition and had to be coaxed into the water before going on to win the race. Things went a little easier after that. Then-coach Bethany Green helped hone Brown’s technique and build her strength for longer distances.
“She definitely had natural ability at a young age and a great willingness to learn,” Green said. “She was a lot of fun at meets and a lot of fun to teach.”
Head coach Matt Scoggins, who took over the program in 2007, continued working on Brown’s form, starts and turns. Her best strokes — backstroke and freestyle — helped lead the team to several small team division championship wins. More than six years later, the attention to detail paid off as Brown began the next chapter of her swimming career.
“When I first tried out for YSSC, the coach was really surprised at how good my technique was for swimming only in the summer,” Brown said. “So he put me in one of the really high groups. If I hadn’t been on the Rangely team, my technique probably wouldn’t be as good as it is now.”
While learning correct form has always been a part of the swim team, Brown best remembers the greater lessons the Rangely Hurricanes coaches taught her and the 25 to 30 local kids who join each year.
For one, just because the Hurricanes are a summer club team doesn’t mean they can’t keep up with the year-round teams they compete against. In addition to being the small team division champions at the Western Slope’s Seasonal Club Championship for five years running, the Hurricanes regularly challenge swimmers from year-round teams like Sopris, Aspen, Grand Junction and Montrose.
“We’re definitely competitive,” Scoggins said. “We have several strong swimmers who do well against those teams. …Over the years, we’ve had several kids who probably could have swam at the college level but chose not to.”
In addition to participating in healthy competition, which, for the Hurricanes, always involves good sportsmanship and individual accomplishments as part of a larger team effort, kids also learn important life skills.
“It builds up your confidence because you’re swimming by yourself,” Brown said. “It’s great when you win and it’s also great to hear teammates encourage you. But you learn from losing, too. When you lose, you learn how to get better and it also kind of teaches you humility.”
Over the years, Scoggins has seen the broader impact swimming has had on Rangely kids.
“Seeing the kids build their self-confidence is huge,” Scoggins said. “Physical fitness is huge. Learning to swim safely is huge. It’s a non-contact sport, so kids almost never get injured. It’s also a lifetime sport. You go up to the rec center and you have people who are 70 and 80 who are swimming still.”
Looking back, Brown also remembers a coaching staff willing to learn and grow with the kids. Like the time Olympic swimmer Josh Davis came to teach swimmers and coaches the importance of technique and sportsmanship. Or the way Scoggins built his staff using local talent, from former Hurricanes swimmer Marie Morton to parent Jennifer Noel to wife and assistant coach Beth.
“Beth and Matt really worked me hard during practice, and I really liked that,” Brown said. “They really encouraged me, too. They’d tell me how to improve and what to do different the next time I swam. If I had a bad race, they told me to forget about it and get ready for the next one.”
This year, the Hurricanes have hired a Colorado Mesa University swimmer as an assistant coach to help broaden the scope of teaching and learning. It’s just another way to teach kids, among them Scoggins’ own five children, what really matters.
“We have incredible kids in Rangely, and we have good parents and staff who support those kids,” he said. “The best part is spending time with your kids doing something you enjoy.”
Now, at 15, Brown can say that she’s more confident and prepared thanks to the support of Rangely mentors and coaches. She’s learned that, given time and dedication to the sport, she will become a very, very good swimmer. More than anything, she’s built lifelong friendships with Rangely kids, fellow swimmers on competing teams and, now, her teammates at the YSSC.
“I learned to make friends in swim team,” Brown said. “That helped so much when I moved here. I made friends the first day I started swimming for YSSC and that really did make the transition a lot easier.”