TORONTO — The first competitive swimming event for Kimora Alex and Talena Holata won’t be one the pair of 11-year-old girls forget anytime soon.
Big city, foreign country, international competition and a world class facility were on the agenda.
Their debut swimming with opponents in the pool for the first time came July 20 in the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto where they not only faced top Indigenous athletes from Canada and the U.S., but older ones as well. If that wasn’t enough of an eye-opening encounter for two girls with no experience except practices, then swimming in the bright, sprawling, world-class Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre served as another jolt.
“It was scary,” Talena said about swimming in a facility that hosted the 2015 Pan American Games.
Talena, from Brighton, and Kimora, from Hollywood, competed in the U14 category because that was the youngest age group available. The first day of competitive swimming for the only members of Team Florida featured another caveat when they swam in the same 50-meter backstroke preliminary heat. Kimora lined up in lane 3 while three spots away was her teammate Talena in lane 6. Both wore red swim caps with the Seminole Tribe Recreation logo prominently featured. They didn’t glance at each other at the start.
“We had to look up,” Kimora said.
As expected, neither advanced out of the heat. Talena finished sixth in 1:02 while Kimora finished seventh in 1:08, but places and times are not what their experiences were about for this event or for the other heats that they swam. Stephanie Ecker, who coaches the girls with fellow Fort Pierce lifeguard Jennie Busbin, was thrilled with the girls’ debut.
“They did fantastic. They’ve come such a long way,” Ecker said.
Indeed, Kimora and Talena only started swimming under the guidance of their coaches about six months ago. The small team, which also included Shyla Holata, who was unable to attend NAIG, met Tuesdays and Thursdays in Riviera Beach for practices.
“I’d like to get them in the pool year round if possible and get them into competitions locally,” Ecker said.
Ecker would also like to see more Seminole kids take an interest in swimming and has a goal of someday creating a Tribal swim team for kids from all reservations.
“Our hope is over the next three years to start building up a swim team within the Seminole Tribe. That may require us to travel a couple times a week, which we’re fine with,” she said.
“If they can build that team and get those swimmers then maybe they’ll go on to become junior lifeguards and lifeguards in Recreation,” said Recreation’s Salina Dorgan, who watched the girls compete.