Roley lights fire for Sehome swimming

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 20, 2013 

21 All-Whatcom GSWM

Sehome's Gwen Roley is our All-Whatcom County girls' swimmer of the year. Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013 in Bellingham.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Shoot for the stars and fall somewhere in between, or so the saying goes, and Sehome junior swimmer Gwendolyn Roley certainly employed such a mindset entering the 2013 season.

What Roley wanted few can even fathom doing. She had her eyes set toward qualifying for all eight individual events for the state swimming meet - attaining the "Iron Man," as she stated, and if not for the 100 breaststroke and 100 butterfly, she would have done so. But all of that was an afterthought when she claimed the state championship in the 200 freestyle, furthering the reason why she has been selected as the The Bellingham Herald's 2013 All-Whatcom County Girls' Swimmer of the Year.

The notion that swimmers race as individuals has little bearing on Roley, who quickly dismissed her own accomplishments in favor of her teammates.

"Not even individually, but as a team we did so much better than we thought we (would)," said Roley, who saw her team overcome a projected seventh-place finish at state to finish third behind Pullman and Squalicum.

A team-first mentality notwithstanding, what Roley did at state bears a certain level of acknowledgment. She not only won the 200 freestyle with a time of 1 minute, 57.33 seconds, but she also took third in the 100 backstroke (1:00.45) while swimming legs in Sehome's second-place 200 freestyle relay (1:45.69) and fourth-place 400 freestyle relay (3:50.83) teams.

None of her success came as a surprise to Don Helling, the coach of the Mariners' girls' swimming team.

"She's the type of kid who sets her goals high, and is very thoughtful of her training," Helling said. "If you want to improve to be the best, you got to work that much harder, and there are no short cuts ... and she understands that."

The offseason is a figment of the imagination for Roley and many of her teammates. To reach the level of excellence she has in the pool takes a certain dedication reminiscent of waking up around 5 a.m. to meet with the rest of the team for a 6 a.m. run through Western Washington University's campus down Taylor Street.

Once the early-morning saunter reaches its conclusion, Roley and her fellow Mariners hit the weight room.

A collective groan ushers the girls morning by morning into the rest of their days, Roley said.

"We then stuff our faces with breakfast," said Roley, adding that it's not hard to pick out those who swim for Sehome because of the wet hair and general look of fatigue.

It's a process, though, Roley said, knowing that when she stood atop the podium for her championship medal it was all worth it. The early mornings. The long nights. The what-seemed-like-mile-high stairs she trudged up and down, equipment and all, during the team's annual preseason training trip to Victoria. All of it.

"My teammates are some of my best friends, and it's pretty hard not to be happy around them even when we are in the depths of the worst workout Don has constructed," Roley said.

There's a side to Roley that isn't quantified by wins or fast times that may be equally as important to the team's success.

"I think one of the things she brings to the team is just a great sense of fun and a sense of humor when we're working hard," Helling said. "She's always able to crack me up and do a few things ... that bring us together and keep us light."

Many of those light-hearted moments, Roley admitted, are at the expense of Helling.

In one particular practice near the end of the season, Roley corralled her teammates into a closet before their coach had arrived. They waited silently, and after about 10 minutes had passed Helling opened the closet door and the girls calmly walked out, swimmer by swimmer, and jumped in the pool without saying a word.

"He wasn't that mad. He kind of smirked to himself and told us to get into the water," Roley said. "It you try to have fun during practice, it is definitely a lot easier."

The grind of a long season has its way of wearing people down, and none more so than competitors like Roley. But as with all things, she's found a balance of work and play, something Helling is more than happy to tolerate for one more year.

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports news.

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