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Coach amazed by talent of young Lahaina swimmers

By Staff | Jan 27, 2011


LAHAINA — The sterling leadership of Lahaina Swim Club coach Tom Popdan is turning into gold, as several youth prodigies under his mentoring are headed for the 2011 USA Swimming/Speedo Champions Series Western Region Short Course Championship.

The event at Federal Way, Washington, from March 9-13 will be hosted by the Husky Swimming Foundation and King County Aquatic Center.

Leading the Lahaina Swim Club (LSC) charge to Federal Way is 16-year-old sensation Renny Richmond, who has turned the heads of Hawaii swimming officials and gained national recognition with his performances over the last year, including the top time in the 15-year-old age group 100 butterfly event.

According to Coach Popdan, Richmond has qualified for the Western Region meet in several events, but the 100 fly is his top race.

“He (Richmond) is a really unique talent — a local youth athlete excelling on the national level. And he has a bona fide shot to go to this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials,” he said.

Lahaina Swim Club’s Sectional Qualifiers are (from left) Sarah Armstrong, Paris Sargent, Renny Richmond and Jesselee Chapman. Photo by Wendy Laurel.

Fifteen-year-old Jesselee Chapman and two 13-year-olds, Paris Sargent and Sarah Armstrong, will join Richmond to form this formidable LSC contingent on its way to Federal Way.

Coach Tom added that Joshua Gaastra is on the cusp for qualifying for the Western Region competition.

“Paris swims the breast and free events, Jesselee the distance free and individual medley and Sarah the breaststroke and butterfly,” said Popdan, a physical education and computer lab teacher at Sacred Hearts School in Lahaina.

“All of these kids have grown up in the LSC program and are developing into Division I national collegiate swimmers. They are already some of the nation’s top junior age group (18 and under) swimmers. It’s really a unique group, and it is seldom to get pure talent like this in one group of kids,” he said. “Amazing.”

But Popdan noted that the Lahaina swimmers are at a disadvantage in that they will have to put in more preparation, including raising funds to travel to the Mainland for the competition.

“Most of the other competitors will be able to drive to the meet,” he explained. “It is a disadvantage for our kids, but they need to go to learn how to excel, and it will be good for them to compete against the best in the country.”

He concluded by saying that Lahaina Swim Club will begin fund-raising for the trip in the near future.

“This is really a unique opportunity for all of us, as we have never sent this many kids to this event. I am really excited and happy to be a part of it,” he concluded.

For more information, or to contribute to the effort, call (808) 268-2903.