USA Swimming’s TYR Pro Series event came to Richmond this weekend, pitting some of the nation’s best swimmers against one another across two sites at SwimRVA in Chesterfield and another site in San Antonio.
The TYR Pro Series is just the second USA Swimming national-level meet since the pandemic began last March. Swimmers were split across the two venues to ensure safety and facilitate social distancing practices. The San Antonio site was the primary location, featuring a larger concentration of national-level swimmers and a bubble-type environment.
A handful of local competitors competed at the Richmond site and said the event was an opportunity to get in the pool with elite competition in a year where national-level meets have been hard to come by.
Three-time All-Metro swimmer of the year Grace Sheble, a senior at James River High who competes for NOVA of Virginia Aquatics, called the event “eye opening” in terms of exposure to other swimmers around the country.
“It just kinda gives us an opportunity to compete against people we wouldn’t normally compete against because of COVID guidelines,” said Sheble, who swam the 400 IM Friday.
“So they way they’ve held this meet is really nice.”
Sheble placed fourth in the 400 IM. Fellow NOVA swimmer Zoe Dixon (Mills Godwin) came in first at 4:43.01, and Grace’s sister, Caroline, placed 10th.
Claire Dafoe, a junior at Cosby High who also swims for NOVA, finished 10th in the 800 free Thursday, coming in at 8:45.34.
Dafoe, who just joined NOVA last year, said her training over the past year has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. So the opportunity presented by the TYR Pro Series was all the more cherished.
“I really value it because, with all the things happening with COVID, it’s really hard for a lot of people everywhere to get in the pool,” Dafoe said.
“And to get an opportunity, it’s really good to race fast people.”
Sanna Peterson, a student at Deep Run High who has swam for NOVA since she was 5 years old, set a personal best at 9:09.26 in the 800 free Thursday. Peterson said she’s been thankful for the efforts put forth by NOVA coaches and staff this year to give her and other local swimmers an opportunity to train amid the pandemic.
But in the COVID era, it’s been difficult to improve continually, Peterson said.
“We’re really thankful that we have the opportunity to swim against really good competition,” Peterson said. “I know there’s a lot of parts of the country that can’t get in the water right now. And just the fact that we’re able to, I’m really happy about.”
Outside of local competitors, notable names and results at the Richmond branch of the TYR Pro Series included Ashley Twichell, Emily Escobedo and Erin Gemmell.
Twichell was one of three swimmers to have already qualified for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, having done so in the open water 10K. She swam in the 800 free to kick off the meet Thursday night. Twichell is trying to become the first female American swimmer to qualify for the Olympics in both pool and open water events.
Escobedo is a current U.S. national team member, and on Friday beat out the current world-record holder Lilly King in San Antonio to win the 100 breaststroke.
Gemmell, 16, recently made her first national junior team roster. She set a personal best in Friday’s 200 free, finishing third behind two U.S. national team members in San Antonio. Gemmell’s father, Bruce, has a storied coaching career, and coached world champion, Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Katie Ledecky in her early years.
At the San Antonio site, Regan Smith finished second in the 200 freestyle. Smith, a name to watch this summer in Tokyo, set world records in the 100 and 200 backstroke as a 17-year-old at the 2019 World Championships, and has since excelled in butterfly events as well.