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.
“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.
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.”