Soldotna senior Caitlin Martin has always thought swimming is totally tubular. It's just that when she started the sport, she had a different type of tubular in mind.
When Martin was 7 years old, a neighborhood friend convinced her to go to a Soldotna Silver Salmon practice by telling her she would get to play around with inner tubes.
"I just got into it for the fun of it," Martin said. "I thought it was all play.
"Then it turned out we only got to play with inner tubes every other Friday. It was actually a lot of work."
But by the time she discovered the swim club wasn't all play and no work, it was too late. She was hooked.
"I can't imagine being without swimming," Martin said. "Swimming is what I do. I can see myself when I'm 30, before a I go to work, getting up early and going to the pool.
"It's so relaxing, even though you're working hard. There's just something about the water that makes me feel real good."
That "something" may be that when Martin is around the water, success usually follows. She is on the Soldotna 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams that hold school records and has qualified for state in her freshman through junior years. She also has Soldotna top 10 times in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle.
Martin also may have taken a liking to the water because she can be so miserable when she's out of it. The moments before a race for Martin are tantamount to a crescendo in a horror flick.
"I barely enjoy the competition and I've been doing it for 10 years," Martin said. "Right before a race, my body gets so numb, I shake, I do my inhaler like 100 times.
"I just get so nervous and worried."
In the end, Martin said those torturous moments before a race are worth it due to the friends she's made in swimming and, of course, an excuse to be able to spend so much time in the water.
"As soon as she gets off the blocks, her nervousness is gone," said Gary Martin, who along with Lou Martin is Caitlin's parent. "I've always asked her why she gets so nervous because she has such beautiful starts."
The finishes aren't too bad either, and that's makes the chaotic bundle of nerves all the more puzzling. Martin's career as a whole has gone pretty smoothly, except for last year at the state meet when she missed the start of her preliminary race and was disqualified from the whole meet. She said she was at the other end of the pool thinking about her race, the meet got moving swiftly and suddenly her heat was up on the starting blocks.
It was the low point in Martin's career, but it's something she says she's over.
"It feels weird to say it, but it's helped me," Martin said. "It's made me more aware so I won't let it happen my senior year.
"I look on the bright side. It wasn't my senior year, it was my junior year. I still have this year."
Soldotna coach Sohail Marey was struck by two things about the disqualification.
First, he couldn't believe how out of character it was for Martin. Marey has coached Martin since she was 7, and said one thing he remembers about her at that young age was her terrific listening skills.
"When you were at a meet, you could tell her to stay in a certain spot and she'd always be there until you went to get her," the coach said.
Marey also was impressed with how Martin dealt with the disqualification.
"I told her the meet wasn't over for her, yet," Marey said. "She could still encourage her teammates.
"She was down there at the pool edge during every race, screaming for her teammates. She could have went in a corner and felt bad for herself, but she didn't."
Those two qualities of being a good listener and a good teammate have made Martin an assistant captain her junior year and a captain this year. Marey said the Stars have some extremely competitive personalities, but Martin does a good job of making sure the team still gels.
"I've been with a lot of them for most of the 10 years, so they're pretty much like sisters," Martin said. "When they look up to me, that means I'm doing something right and that makes me feel good."
Martin says competition in swimming is important to her, but she makes sure to have fun and not look at it as a life-or-death situation. She brings the same attitude to the classroom, where she carries a grade point average of 3.5.
"School's important to me, but I'm not one of those people who has to get a 100 percent on every test," said Martin. "I keep up with my homework, but I still make sure that I'm having fun in high school."
In that vein, Martin said she's always anxious to help do things like decorate for homecoming dances. Her father, Gary, also points out that she's a manager for the hockey team, meaning in recent weeks sometimes she's had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to get to the hockey rink at 5 a.m. She'll then swim at 6:30 a.m. before heading to school and hitting another swimming practice after school.
"I guess I just want to have as much fun as I can while I'm still home and living with my parents," Martin said of her busy schedule.
Martin, an animal lover whose family has three dogs and five birds, is planning on going to college next year with an eye on being a veterinarian. It's a career she looks forward to much more than her current occupation, which has been working in the roe room the past two years at a cannery.
"When I think of my future, I think of a black tunnel," Martin said. "That's OK, because when you're 17 it's almost impossible to have your life planned.
"I'm sure that I'll find my dream sometime, and when I do, I think I'll have success going after it."
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