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Three Village Swim Club

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

Kyra Sommerstad, 17, lives for the water and the thrill of shaving seconds off her best swim times. Though she has been swimming competitively since she was 10, for nearly five years, her major goal was to make it to the Olympic trials. 

Kyra Sommerstad will be attending the Olympic trials in June 2020. Photo from PJSD

This year, during a meet at the Nassau County Aquatic Center, she was wide eyed when she reviewed her time for the 100-yard backstroke. Her time, 1:02.66, just under the qualifying time by .03 seconds.

“I hoped I would make the qualifying time any time this summer, but I really wasn’t expecting it at this event,” Sommerstad said. “When I looked up and saw my time, I didn’t really realize at first, so I had to do a double take to make sure the time was right, and I just got really emotional.”

Sommerstad’s dad, Ray, said at the time he and the rest of the audience weren’t especially looking at the times, instead focused on the intense back and forth between his daughter and another swimmer during the second backstroke leg, where each was neck and neck. Once she finally got out of the pool, only then did eyes turn up to her final times. 

“She goes to practice eight times a week, six days, some days she goes twice,” her father said. “She’s a hard worker — she shows up every day with a smile. Her positive enthusiasm is contagious.”

The Port Jefferson swimmer started in the pool when she was just under 10 years old, as part of what her dad described as every parent’s quest to find an activity for their kid that
would stick.

This one stuck. She took to the water like a fish, her parents said, and would improve in skill year after year after year. When she was 13, she set a goal for herself that she would make it to the Olympic trials, and she dedicated herself to that bar ever since.

While she represents the Port Jefferson high school in school swimming, for years, the Port Jeff swimmer has been practicing with the Three Village Swim Club. Her coach for the past three years, Mark Anderson, said she is as close to the perfect student as one can get. In his years of coaching, Sommerstad is the first he’s taught to qualify for the Olympic trials.

“She’s really a coach’s dream athlete — she makes corrections really well and she does what she’s told to do, and that’s really rare in a lot of people,” he said. “She’s finally starting to achieve every goal she’s set in front
of her.” 

When she made it her intention to make it to the Olympic qualifiers, she, her coach and her parents would look at the times expected to qualify increase from 1:03.99 in 2012 to 1:03.39 in 2016. For 2020, the time jumped by close to a full second.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

And in swimming, when shaving off decimals of a second in a swim time is considered solid work for months of effort, the task looked daunting.

“I’m happy if a swimmer takes off half a second in months trying to get better,” the coach said. “She made it by .03 … It’s a sport of hundreds of seconds, and it puts a lot of things in their lives in perspective.”

As well as being a Scholastic All-American recipient, Sommerstad currently is maintaining a 95 percent average in school and is already committed to The Ohio State University where she plans to compete in swimming. While she hasn’t settled on a specific major yet, she said she was looking into working with children, either in teaching or in occupational therapy.

Those who have seen her train know she puts the same amount of effort into training for swim meets as she does the other important aspects of her life.

“[Her academics] do not suffer at all for all the time she spends in the pool,” her father said. “It actually gives her discipline to make sure she manages her time effectively.”

Though she is heading to the Olympic trials, she, her family and her coach are trying to keep their expectations realistic, as she will be competing against the best swimmers from all across the nation. Despite this, Sommerstad, who is traveling from state to state competing in swim meets, expects her training to ramp up hard as they head to the Olympic trials June 22, 2020.

“I’m definitely going to be working a lot harder this year — doing some extra stuff out of the pool to maybe gain some muscle so I can swim faster,” she said. “I’m hoping to swim a best time at Olympic trials, so I can be seated higher among all the people who have made it.”

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Kyra Sommerstad placed in the 200-yard individual medley and 100 backstroke at the state championship meet. Photos from Kyra Sommerstad

Kyra Sommerstad continues to bask in success.

The Port Jefferson sophomore swimmer made her third straight trip to the state championship meet Nov. 18 and 19 at Ithaca College, and far surpassed her finishes last season of 13th in the 200-yard individual medley and 15th in the 100 backstroke. Despite Top 10 finishes this time around, she said there’s still more work to be done.

“I was happy with how I placed,” said Sommerstad, who placed fourth in the individual medley in 2 minutes, 5.43 seconds and sixth in the backstroke in 56.59. “But I wish I swam a little faster.”

The sophomore said she felt more confident having competed at the state event the last two years, but said nerves did kick in once she got into the pool. She said she wasn’t happy with how she swam in the preliminaries, and used that to fuel her fire. As she always does, she stretched before each race; listened to music to keep her energy high; and ended up finishing the backstroke in a new personal-best time.

“I knew I had to swim fast,” Sommerstad said. “Because I wasn’t where I wanted to be coming out of preliminaries, I was nervous heading into finals, but I was trying as hard as I could — focusing on the little things.”

Her Three Village Swim Club coach Mark Anderson said her underwater work continues to make her more competitive at higher-level meets.

“It was pretty incredible,” he said of watching her compete. “I’ve been extremely happy with how she’s raced so far without having a meet to rest and taper for. I’m really excited to see her success continue.”

Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner, who was not at the meet, said she was gripping her phone all day waiting to hear how Sommerstad did.

“It was really exciting seeing Kyra’s name up on the board representing little Port Jeff on a big-time stage … not small school-large school, but all schools,” Turner said. “She has proven that she is one of the best in the state.”

Now Sommerstad will prepare for the winter junior nationals down in Knoxville, Tennessee, before going to a travel team meet in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Anderson said he has high hopes for his swimmer in the future.

“There’s a lot of fine-tuning that goes into hopefully putting together the perfect race, and the last two years have been very rewarding for myself and for Kyra,” he said of the dedication and hard work his young swimmer has already put into training. “I would love to see her compete and contend at national-level meets, whether it be junior nationals and make Top 8 or make it to nationals and place Top 16. Our ultimate goal is to get her to the 2020 Olympic trials, and have her do great there. Regardless, getting to see her grow up and mature and become what’s going to be a very good collegiate swimmer has been a real enjoyment for me. Wherever she ends up swimming in two years, she’s going to be a coach’s dream.”

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Port Jefferson sophomore grabs gold in 100-yard backstroke, 200 individual medley for second season

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

By Desirée Keegan

Coach Mark Anderson asked Port Jefferson swimmer Kyra Sommerstad what her goal was heading into the 200 individual medley race at the Suffolk County championships Nov. 4.

“I want to go 2:04,” she answered, which would be a career best for the sophomore.

By the time she touched the wall, Kyra had completed the 200 yards in 2 minutes, 4 seconds, which also earned her a first-place finish.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

“Watching her swim, she looked great,” said Anderson, her Three Village Swim Club coach for the last two years. “She had gone a 2:04, and I thought that spoke to the kind of person she is. She’s incredibly driven, very positive and she goes into every race knowing what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. It makes me proud to see someone grow the way she has over the last couple of years to someone that is capable of setting a goal in her mind and achieving it.”

On top of placing first in the individual medley, Kyra also grabbed gold in the 100 backstroke.

“I knew from last year that I could win,” said Kyra of the county meet at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. “I really went into it determined and I really wanted to win the same events that I won the year before.”

Being the top seed gave her confidence going in that she could reclaim the county crown in both races, she said. She said Anderson and Port Jefferson head coach Mary Fleckenstein helped her work on her technique and mentality to get her ready to race. Prior to getting into the water, she stretched and listened to pop music to get in the zone.

“I swam some fast times before counties so I knew where I was going into it,” she said. “I get myself pumped up by listening to music. I just didn’t want to drop my spot.”

Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner said seeing all that the swimmer has been able to accomplish at such a young age is inspiring.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

“Kyra is an outstanding student and an overall great person,” Turner said. “She never looks for recognition or praise, however her accomplishments and incredible ability should absolutely be highlighted. She has represented Port Jefferson in the most positive of ways and on many stages.  We could not be more proud of Kyra, and we are excited to see what the future holds for this young talent.”

Fleckenstein shared a similar sentiment, adding that she’s been a joy to work with.

“She’s very impressive,” the coach said of Kyra. “She’s such a sweet girl. She’s gracious, she’s easy to work with. She doesn’t go in with an ‘I’m going to win because I’m the best’ attitude. She gets in the pool and does her job.”

Anderson and Fleckenstein have seen the sophomore mature over the last year, and said they think bigger and better accomplishments are ahead.

“She challenges herself every day,” Fleckenstein said. “She doesn’t like to miss practice. They’re all signs she’s headed in the right direction. There’s some untapped talent in there, and her club coach has been doing a great job bringing her along. By the time she graduates she’ll be sought after by many colleges.”

Kyra Sommerstad placed first in the 100-yard breastroke and 200 individual medley at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

Her Three Village Swim Club coach has been focusing on underwater work with his swimmer, including off-the-block movements, hand speed, tempo and turns.

“I’ve been extremely happy with how she’s raced so far without having time to rest,” Anderson said. “In the next couple of weeks she has the state championship, the winter junior nationals down in Knoxville, Tennessee, and then she’s going to have our team’s travel meet in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There’s a lot of fine-tuning this week that goes into hopefully putting together the perfect race this weekend and it’s going to be a real test to see how she’s prepared over the last couple of months.”

He added, with her attitude, he knows she’ll succeed.

“She is incredibly positive, incredibly hard-working, dedicated, she’s a great student in the classroom and just getting to know her and getting to see her grow up and mature has been a real enjoyment for me,” he said. “She is a coaches dream.”

Kyra validated Anderson’s comments, saying she’s ready for what lies ahead.

“I’ll be working really hard in the pool and perfecting my technique,” she said. “I’m getting ready to swim fast.”

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Kyra Sommerstad competes in the Suffolk County championship meet. Photo from Raymond Sommerstad

By Desirée Keegan

Kyra Sommerstad is either part fish or exceedingly dedicated to her craft.

The freshman swimmer from Port Jefferson has practice two hours a day, six or seven days a week, 11 months a year. Needless to say, the hard work continues to pay off for Kyra, who hasn’t missed a practice since the new season began in September, and as a result, she competed in the state finals for a second straight season, this time in Ithaca Nov. 18 and 19.

Kyra Sommerstad competes in the Suffolk County championship meet. Photo from Raymond Sommerstad

“Sometimes it gets a little intense, but it’s fun,” she said of her chaotic schedule. “As long as you stay determined at practice and have fun with it, you can make it through and be successful. But it was nice to see all of my hard work in the pool pay off.”

Kyra entered the state meet after earning two county titles in the 100-meter backstroke and 200 individual medley Nov. 5 at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. She finished the backstroke in 57.16 seconds, and the intermediate medley in 2 minutes, 7.88 seconds.

“She qualified in other events she could have entered in and done equally as well,” Port Jefferson head coach Mary Fleckenstein said. “She’s mentally strong and she sets goals for herself and she works hard at practice to achieve those goals. She’s a dedicated athlete. She’s just got it all.”

While Fleckenstein has known Kyra since she was in elementary school, the freshman works primarily with Three Village Swim Club coach Mark Anderson. The club houses the nearest pool for Port Jefferson residents, and since Royals swimmers only compete as individuals, Kyra is part of a team with the club year-round.

“She’s a very gifted athlete,” Anderson said. “She’s very tall and thin — pretty much the stereotypical look for a swimmer — she’s self-determined, dedicated and the list goes on and on of the positive words you could use to describe her. Everything that you look for in a swimmer, she’s got.”

Kyra began swimming during camp and mommy-and-me days at the YMCA. She decided to try out for the Three Village team, and fell in love with the sport.

“She works hard and always comes into practice with a smile on her face, and you can see the results of that pay off at her meets. She’s certainly motivated enough to get to any level of competition she wants to.”

— Mark Anderson

“I feel very, very comfortable in the water,” she said. “It felt like a better place than playing on the field or something.”

Her competitions have continued to amp up in intensity over the last four years, and as a result of her outside training and meets, she qualified to compete at the state level as an eighth grader, after earning a county title in the 500 freestyle. Kyra reached the state finals in the freestyle and 100 backstroke last season.

“I was very nervous,” Kyra said of her first trip to the state finals. “It was different being one of the youngest people there, but I knew a lot of the girls there through club swimming, like some older kids that were seniors, so they helped me get through that.”

Although she was intimidated, she’s not someone to let emotions get in the way of her performance, according to Anderson. Her father Raymond added that his daughter tends to pull out her best performances when the pressure is on.

“The feeling of watching your kids work hard at something and then being successful, there’s no way to describe it,” Sommerstad said. “It’s the best feeling that I’ve had in my life. To get the results when you work like that is very nice to see.”

This year, Kyra finished 13th in the individual medley and 15th in the backstroke.

“I didn’t do as good as I wanted to, but I looked forward to being there, and making finals again was still exciting,” she said.

Kyra Sommerstad raises up her finger after placing first in the 100-meter backstroke and 200 intermediate medley. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

Her coach said he has enjoyed getting the time to grow with and learn about his young swimmer.

“As a coach, I develop a really close connection with a lot of them,” Anderson said. “You learn their strengths, weaknesses, how to get them motivated for a swim, how to calm them down after a bad swim, so it’s been a really great learning experience for me, and I’ve got to know Kyra the past couple of months. I’m starting to go with her to some very big swim meets, and it has been a lot of fun.”

He’s excited to see where the future will take his swimmer.

“She’s always willing to learn, she’s always listening, she takes criticism and compliments and any stroke techniques really well, and she translates it,” he said. “She works hard and always comes into practice with a smile on her face, and you can see the results of that pay off at her meets. She’s certainly motivated enough to get to any level of competition she wants to. The sky’s the limit for her.”

Kyra said she’s just enjoying the ride and all that the sport has given her so far.

“Swimming is pretty much my life right now,” she said. “I do it after school every day. It helps me digest everything that happened throughout the day, or to just think about stuff or clear my mind. I think swimming is both a mental and physical sport. You have to have the determination and confidence going into a race, and you have to be able to practice well and train hard in order to achieve your goals. And I’m doing that.”

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