Swim champ in the making

When coaches talk about Noe Calderon, they can't help but mention the superlatives: natural talent, a great work ethic, diligence beyond his years.

It's a good thing they talk about the Sequim High School freshman, since Calderon isn't exactly the most loquacious of athletes.

He'd rather be in the water and let his swimming speak for itself.

At just 14 years old, Calderon has become a quiet leader among the Wolves, posting six of Sequim's best eight times in eight individual events heading into the Jan. 27 meet with Bremerton.

"He's got the drive - he never asks questions and does what I ask him to do," Sequim coach Linda Bingler says. "Some people are natural swimmers."

Calderon picked up the sport at age 7 when he joined the now-defunct Olympic Peninsula Aquatics swim club team.

"I wanted to learn how to swim," Calderon says plainly. "I tried really hard."

Small and lean but willing to learn, the youngster picked up the strokes and truly took the water quickly, says OPA coach Dan Clark.

"(I noticed) his shyness; mostly he just focused on what he was doing," Clark says. "I think it's grown to be his passion. Working out to him is not a dirty word."

In 2004, Clark's club dissolved after a tussle with local pool officials and use of swim lanes, so an undeterred Calderon joined the Port Angeles Swim Club, a team he trains with in the off-season.

Now Calderon is hitting the lanes with the Wolves. In his first year, the freshman has four district-qualifying swims: the 200 individual medley (his favorite), the 500 free, the 100 backstroke and the 100 breaststroke.

For Bingler, the only swim coach Sequim High School's ever had, Calderon has been a pleasant addition to the team. Even if, she notes, he's not the most talkative athlete. One week, the coach saw Calderon's times dip slightly. She asked him if he was OK and Calderon told her he was sick. He'd been sick for a week but hadn't told her.

"He reminds me of Summer (Jackson); he's a solitary swimmer," Bingler says.

Jackson, for those who don't recall, was a three-time state champion, All-American, Washington state swimmer of the year in 2004 and went to the University of Arkansas on a swimming scholarship. Jackson also was an OPA swimmer with Clark.

It's not the first time Calderon's been linked to the former Sequim High School star.

"He's be at least as fast as (Summer)," Clark says. "I think he's built like a swimmer. When he goes to state, by the time he's a senior, he's going to be right up there at the top."

At first glance, the youth doesn't look like a prototypical swimmer, at least not with his height. At about 5-foot 7 inches, Calderon is more slight than the majority of his teammates.

That won't matter much, Bingler says.

"Size is not necessarily a deterrent," she says. "He's got a lot of good water finesse. He knows his strokes well and (puts in) a lot of hard work."

Clark, who still keeps in contact with his former swim student, says Calderon is shaping up physically to be a strong swimmer.

"He's still growing - he's got broad shoulders," Clark says. "He's getting more muscular (and) ... he's got the heart of an athlete."

That heart keeps the young swimmer up with some of the best athletes in the Olympic League. While Calderon says he likes the sport for its settling qualities - "It relaxes me," he says - he and his coaches admit his most valuable athletic quality is his drive.

Clark tells the story of Calderon when he was 10 or 11 and competing at a meet in Silverdale. In one event, Calderon's goggles came off and he defaulted. In the next event, it happened again. After his father bought a new set of goggles, Clark recalls, Calderon dove deep into the pool at the start of a 100 individual medley race, then came to the surface and made sure his goggles were going to stay on. He quickly caught up with the pack, passed them and won easily.

"He was waiting for them at the end," Clark says. "He grew up a lot that day."

Calderon says he's hoping the swimming helps out with a scholarship someday. But first, he hopes to get his teammates to districts and beyond, particularly in the 200 freestyle medley.

"Everybody's got to drop two seconds," Calderon says.

It's the kind of effort that requires some hard work - and not so much talking.

Michael Dashiell can be reached at miked@sequim

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