With the encouragement of their mother, Maj. Leticia Walpole, Alvena and Sarah have been swimming since they were 5 years old. Between the two, they have seven trophies and around 150 ribbons and medals. Now, a few years and several hundred practices later, they’re headed to the state meet in Savannah, Ga., Feb. 25-27, representing their local swim team, the Hurricanes.
“I’m really nervous but I feel if I train hard and continue exercising, then I’ll be the fastest 10-year-old girl in the state of Georgia,” Alvena said. “When I get into the water, I feel powerful, and it makes me feel like I’m in good shape. My goal is to make it to the Olympics.”
The Walpoles PCSed to Fort Benning in May. As military kids and frequent movers, Alvena and Sarah have competed in Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
“The one good thing I get out of leaving every time is I get to meet all sorts of people,” Alvena said. “I can see what they’re doing, and I can learn from them.”
Sarah said joining the Hurricanes in Columbus helped her make friends in the area.The pair practice at the D.A. Turner YMCA for two hours six days a week.
“They’re definitely very talented swimmers,” said Hurricanes head coach Ken Goss.
“Their top speed has gotten quite a bit faster since the first I’ve seen them. Alvena actually broke two team records, the 100 fly and the 100 freestyle, at this last meet. Any event you put them in, they’re going to do well.”
Goss said he expects representatives from 40 to 50 other teams to be at the state meet, putting Alvena and Sarah among the top 10 percent of swimmers in Georgia.
“They’re faster than a lot of senior level swimmers right now,” he said. “As long as they keep training hard, they’re going to be good. Swimming as a sport doesn’t really come natural to a lot of people, so to be good at it you have to practice. You have to have a competitive edge, a desire to win.”
Sarah, who was inspired as a rookie swimmer by Michael Phelps, summed up her strategy on winning: “You just go very, very fast and do everything right,” she said.The sisters’ most recent meet, Jan. 15-17 in Auburn, Ala., was another record-breaking venture for both of them. Sarah won first place in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke. Alvena bested several of her previous top times. She’s proudest of beating her time in the 100 butterfly by four seconds, she said.“My time was 1:11,” she said. “I really like the butterfly. You feel like you’re flying — like a graceful butterfly. For some reason, I was naturally talented with it. I can do the 500 butterfly until it actually starts hurting.”
The two share their passion for swimming with the rest of their siblings. Marc Alexander, 21, a senior at Catawba College and the captain of his swim team, has received a swimming scholarship for the past four years. Cynthia, 16, a member of the senior level of the Hurricanes, is working toward a 1:06 time in the breaststroke, so she can get a scholarship. John, 12, also on the Hurricanes, uses swimming to stay in shape for wrestling and football at Faith Middle School.
Leticia, who started swimming as a low-impact exercise three years ago to keep in shape for her PT exam, said she’s glad her kids swim because their involvement in the sport helps them academically, physically and socially — they concentrate better, memorize faster, stay fit and understand teamwork and commitment.
She said she shares in her daughters’ struggles and successes.
“What an opportunity these girls have. It was never presented to me,” said Leticia, who grew up in Mexico. “I feel their emotions. I feel motivated that they want to do well. The joys they get when they win, even a little ribbon or a medal or a trophy, you can see it in their eyes.”
The Walpoles will be PCSing to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in a few months but not without making their mark in the tricommunity.
“Right now, Alvena and Sarah have set themselves in their mind that they want to help the Hurricanes be recognized in the state as being one of the best swim teams,” Leticia said. “We’re leaving in May, and they want to leave their name behind.”
Leticia said being a part of the Hurricanes has been great for all of her children.
“These coaches in here really are family oriented, and they really care about the kids,” she said. “It’s not only about winning, but it’s the motivation and the focus behind it. I have never met — in 17 years of walking around pools — four coaches that care more about the family and the kids than these four coaches in this pool, so I’m thrilled.”
The Hurricanes currently have 110 swimmers, ages 6 to 18, of all different skill levels.
They have open registration year-round. To find out more, go to www.swimhurricanes.com.