Sports Person of the Week
Vitola Making a Splash with the Marlins
Morgan sophomore Abby Vitola is setting records left and right as a member of the Valley Shore YMCA Marlins swimming program. (Photo courtesy of Abby Vitola )
Clinton resident Abby Vitola is making a big-time impact as a member of the Valley Shore YMCA Marlins swimming team. Abby is a sophomore at Morgan, but since there is no girls’ swim team at the school, she decided to take her talents to the Marlins and compete for them on a year-round basis.
“When I was little, I did swim lessons and, the more and more I did, the more I enjoyed it,” says Abby. “I’ve always had fun swimming, but perfecting the individual strokes has kind of become an obsession for me.”
Abby started out doing the backstroke, but now she primarily swims the breaststroke for the Marlins. Abby holds Marlins’ records in the 100 breaststroke and the 200 breaststroke with times of 1:07.35 and 2:26.87, respectively, qualifying for the YMCA Nationals in each event.
At the YMCA Seniors meet, Abby competed against hundreds of other swimmers and qualified for the finals in both events by virtue of placing in the top 30. Abby wound up finishing 15th in the 200 breaststroke and 19th in the 100 breaststroke.
“I had a really good season. I’m getting better and better with every swim, and it’s just an environment that I really thrive in,” Abby says. “Everyone on my team is really supportive, and it’s made me a better competitor.”
One of the keys to Abby’s success is that she never gets too stressed out in the pool. A shining example of this came when Abby broke the Marlins’ record in the 1,650-meter freestyle event.
“I’ve broken a lot of records for the Marlins team already, but the 1,650 freestyle was one I had no expectation of breaking,” says Abby. “By the time the race was over, I knew I had a good swim. I looked up the board and was like, ‘Hey, I just broke the record. Nice.’”
The Valley Shore Marlins don’t operate like a high school program. Meets aren’t win or lost by teams. Instead, they focus more on the performances of individual swimmers in each event.
“There’s two different seasons. One season goes from September to April, and then the other goes from late April to July,” Abby says. “Typically, we have 10 or so meets in a given season, and we are practicing every day except for weekends.”
A typical practice can be grueling for Abby and her fellow Marlins. Depending on the day, Abby is in the pool for upward of three hours.
“Training is tough, but I’ve become so used to it at this point,” says Abby. “It doesn’t faze me. It just makes me a stronger swimmer.”
The Marlins’ practice groups are divided up by skill level, rather than age. Abby likes this unique aspect of the program.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you have good times, you’re going to be swimming with the top groups,” she says. “We have three or four different groups that are divided, and each group has a different level.”
Marlins’ Head Coach Teddy Weeks has worked with Abby for the past five years. Weeks says that Abby is one of the top swimmers in the program, and he believes she has what it takes to compete at the next level.
“Abby’s become a dominant force in the breaststroke, and she’s only a sophomore in high school,” says Weeks. “She’s only going to get quicker.”
In turn, Abby appreciates the support that Coach Weeks gives her both in and out of the water.
“He really helps me stay on top of things and keep on track with my studies. He helps me set goals and always wants me to go for the next accomplishment,” Abby says of Weeks. “He pushes everyone to succeed, and that’s why he’s such a great coach.”
Abby is an honors student at Morgan who enjoys her English and chemistry classes the most. She also likes painting and drawing.
“I’ve always liked art a lot, and it’s really comforting for me,” says Abby. “It’s a good way to just get lost, and sometimes you can create really interesting paintings or drawings, and it’s a lot fun.”
While Abby still has two years of high school to go, she’s already thinking about swimming in college after she graduates from Morgan.
“I’ve done really well up to this point and, if the opportunity presented itself for me to swim in college, I definitely would,” Abby says. “I’ve been swimming for so long now. It would be hard to stop once I’m done with high school.”