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Korby's Corner: Swimming's new biggest fan

Tyler Korby

MINNEAPOLIS — I'll admit, while I remember enjoying the water as a kid, I didn't officially learn how to swim until the sixth grade, nervously attempting my water strokes among my middle-school classmates in the historic Herb Drew Pool.

I was all right, nothing special, but I could certainly keep pace with the other Cloquet preteens at the turn of the millennium.

But being a basketball, baseball and whiffle ball whiz kid seemingly all year-round, swimming never really caught my interest.

That was until I walked into the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center last week.

There, on the heart of the University of Minnesota campus, I walked into the pristine pool home of the girls swimming and diving championships — and enjoyed an afternoon unlike any other regarding the otherwise unfamiliar water sport.

Still, it didn't take long for me to catch on, and lavish the first-class aquatic venue the Golden Gophers call home.

The building itself was second to none, equipped with three pools, several multilevel diving boards and an adjustable pool deck — yes, it moves — so swimmers and officials can get everything they need when hosting the state's pinnacle of meets.

Below, there is a well-stocked media room, while above are concession and apparel stands, including a spacious view through the large glass windows looking into the buzzing Dorothy L. Sheppard pool.

That's where the spectators come into play. Nowhere in the place can a fan not see, feel and enjoy the excitement, as a dual-level seating area provides an overhead look down at some of our state's most talented pool speedsters and acrobats.

The massive scoreboard hangs on the west wall of the center, honing sharp digital images, an abundance of timing components and multicolored results to keep everything straight.

After all, if you haven't been to a swim event, it gets pretty passionate.

Yelling and screaming encouragement is habitual behavior around the pool deck and stands, but even more inspiring is the positivity shared among the swimmers and fans of all the teams.

I was down covering Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Makayla Suominen, the swift-moving senior, in her fifth straight and final state appearance. Owner of 15 state events, eight medals and a state title in 2016, Suominen is as decorated as they come, set to swim next year on a full scholarship at NCAA Division II Alaska-Fairbanks for her childhood idol and former 13-time All-American Gopher, Rebecca Weiland.

But even Suominen, who sped to second in the 50-yard freestyle and fourth in the 100 freestyle, was shedding praise for her opponents last week. Not long after getting out-touched at the wall by Hutchinson freshman phenom Grace Hanson, Suominen shared a hug with the state's two-time defending champ in the 50, not hesitant to embrace her fierce competitor.

The same could be seen for Suominen, earning plenty of pats on her purple swim jacket from fellow opponents, especially locally, including seemingly the entire smiling team of Two Harbors-Silver Bay.

That's why my two-hour drive southbound to Minneapolis was well worth the miles.

From the aquatic haven and atmosphere, to the endless excitement and encouragement, I can honestly say my southbound swimming trip was worth my time.

Because even though my own water strokes are a little shaky still today, I've become swimming's new biggest fan.

Tyler Korby is a freelancer sports reporter for the Pine Journal.

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