It didn’t take long for Caitlin Conci to realize that she was a gifted swimmer.
When she was six her family was in Florida and there were some swimming races at a nearby hotel. Just out of curiosity Conci joined the competition and ended up beating several boys who were two years older than her.
“I enjoy the competition especially when I win,” said the lanky 12-year-old. “It would be harder to get up at six in the morning if I weren’t doing well.”
Six years after her first race in Florida, Conci has become one of the top young swimmers in Colorado. This past weekend at the Western Slope Championships in Grand Junction, the Sea Shark swam in seven events and placed in each race including wins in the 50-meter butterfly, 50-freestyle as well as the 100-fly. She was only five points from being the high-point winner of the meet in the 11-12 female age division. Additionally, Conci improved her best times in the 400-free and 200-intermediate by 25 and 17 seconds respectively.
“What is so amazing about Caitlin is how much time she drops each meet,” said Sea Sharks coach Cammie Hillewaert. “She works hard on each of her strokes and that makes her versatile as well as fast.”
On Thursday, Conci will leave for one of the biggest meets in her young swimming career. She has qualified in three events for the Junior Olympics, which is the equivalent of a state competition in high school without any size classification. The strong swimmer is the only Sea Shark to qualify for the meet.
“I’m pretty excited to get to go to JOs,” Conci said. “There will be a lot of great competition from Denver and I hope that I will be able to make the finals (top eight) in at least one of my events.”
Conci said that at the beginning of the season she would never have guessed she would qualify for the JOs. Yet her determination to improve caused her to take the extra lap, literally. Conci began training twice a day, attending the regular Sea Shark practices at six in the morning and then hitting the pool during lap time at five in the evening.
“The extra laps and practice are all Caitlin,” Hillewaert said. “She has gone above and beyond the normal team because she is driven to improve.”
This summer Conci was the high-point swimmer at three of her eight meets and at four other meets she was second. At least three of her second-place finishes were behind Delta’s Courtney Fry, who is becoming quite the rival for Conci.
“At the beginning of the year, I couldn’t catch her,” Conci said. “At the Western Slopes I beat her three out of five times we faced each other.”
The race that made the difference in the point standings was the 400-freestyle. A race that Conci had a seasonal best by 25 seconds and was split seconds off from qualifying in another JO event. Yet the race was so competitive that she finished eighth and Fry was able to win the race. That was a point difference of 11 points and gave the Delta swimmer just enough room to win the high point.
Looking toward her future in swimming, Conci said she wants to keep improving and making more trips to the JO meet.
When asked about the possibility of qualifying for the Zone meet the meet above JOs Conci said, “I couldn’t make it to Zones, they are too fast.”
At the beginning of this season though she didn’t think she would make it to the JO meet.
“Caitlin has a lot of natural talent and she uses it all,” Hillewaert said. “If she keeps improving every meet she can go pretty far.”
The Sea Shark has a little extra incentive to make it to the next level with a promise from her mother that a qualification to Zone will land her a trip to Maui.
“She is a very determined and self-disciplined girl,” said her mother, Kim Conci. “Her drive to win makes her very competitive and driven.”
Combine some natural talent, self-discipline and fast competition, and who knows, the beater of boys might just earn herself a trip to Hawaii.
First things first though she has her eyes set on the fast waters of Grand Junction and Courtney Fry this weekend.
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