BBST swimmers hit Lake Padden


Tiana Varang, 12, third from left, waits with other swimmers before practice for the Aly Fell 5K Open Water Swim at Lake Padden on Wednesday, Aug. 14, in Bellingham.


Tiana Varang wasn't concerned about things that go boom in the night. Rather, the 12-year-old swimmer was more worried about the things that beneath the cloudy surface of Lake Padden's waters.

"She is a little apprehensive with the creatures in the lake," said her mother, Maritoni Varang, during a phone interview. "Just the thought that there are creatures there and seaweed, it's kind of slimy - a 12-year-old girl is a girly girl."

Tiana and the rest of the Bellingham Bay Swim Team have abandoned the comfy confines of the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center for Lake Padden, the home of this weekend's Aly Fell 5K Open Water Swim competition.

The competition, which offers three different courses for different abilities - 800 meter, 2.5 kilometer and 5 kilometer distances - will be at Lake Padden on Saturday, Aug. 17. Day-of registration is available at 8:30 a.m., and race heats will begin at 9:15 a.m.

BBST's swimmers took to Lake Padden three times this week to familiarize themselves with the unique and different characteristics of open water swimming.

"Swimming in a pool, you have a wall to push off of," said Sean Muncie, director of the Bellingham Bay Swim Team, in a phone interview. "(At Lake Padden), it is just a straight swim. Where our kids are used to swimming longer distances for one workout, now the challenges are they don't get to stop.

"The mental part of open water swimming is tough - you just keep going. But at the same time, you get in your own zone there. (It's just) you in the water and keep going."

The team took to the first practice well, Muncie added, but being out of a pool with guides and in a new environment has posed some challenges. Specifically, he said, the swimmers sometimes don't know if they are swimming straight, or even in the right direction.

Tiana ran into such a problem, Monday being her first time practicing in open water.

"The first day of practice ... she was swimming freestyle, and she had her head up," Maritoni said. "Some of the other parents that do the triathlons said, 'Oh, she is going to tire out.'"

Tiana recognized that, and has since become more comfortable in submerging her head. She also has a backup plan to help her negotiate the open water if all else fails.

"I am just going to follow those ahead of me," Tiana said in a phone interview.

Lake Padden's waters terrified Tiana to the point where she questioned even competing in the Aly Fell. She didn't want to go to practice Monday because of what she thought lurked beneath the surface.

What once paralyzed her with fear turned out to be something that strengthened the young swimmer, realizing that it really wasn't as bad as she made it out to be.

"I kind of like it," she said of the first practice, "because I felt stronger and I conquered my fear of open water. It felt really good to let myself know I could."

Her teammates assured her that everything would be OK, that it wouldn't be that bad, reinforcing the ideal her mother spoke of: This team is a family. No more is that true than with 13-year-old Emma Carlton.

Carlton moved from Arizona two years ago to a city she was largely unfamiliar with. A move like that is never easy, she said in a phone interview.

"For every kid, a move from another state is difficult," she said.

Carlton always felt comfortable in the water, ever since a friend talked her into going swimming with her when she was 8 years old.

"I feel like I belong in the water," she said, recalling her first swim practice. "It just feels natural to me."

Her fit with BBST is reminiscent of her love for the water: Both just felt like a natural fit.

"We're all a family," she said. "We're all one big, happy family."


When: Races start at 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17.

Where: Lake Padden

Registration: Day-of registration starts at 8:30 a.m., with a $15 fee.

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