Knights Kirk flies at state

FEDERAL WAY — Dana Kirk should have painted a big, fat bullseye on her chest when she stepped up on the starting block.

This one-person swim team from Bremerton High was the center of attention at the King County Aquatic Center, site of the Nov. 10 state 4A swimming and diving championships.

If Kirk felt any pressure while trying to live up to everyone’s expectations, she didn’t show it.

The personable Bremerton senior held off three-time defending champion Erica Chandler of Snohomish to win the 200-yard freestyle, then came back to smash the state record in her specialty, the 100-yard butterfly.

The confident 18-year-old student body president wasn’t seeking special attention, but this was clearly a special meet for the highly-recruited swimmer who won a silver medal at the Goodwill Games in Australia last summer.

“For my whole life, swimming has always been for myself,” Kirk said. “Now I can do it and represent my school and I’d never been able to do that before.”

It was no surprise when Kirk was named the Washington Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association’s Class 4A Swimmer of the Year. The WISCA, since 1996, has used complicated “power points tables” to determine the winner. Kirk’s 317 is the largest power-point total for a state high school swimmer — boy or girl.

Kirk powered to victory in the 100 fly in 53.99 seconds, breaking her own record of 54.44 that she set the day before during prelims. That was a day after Rebecca Sturdy of Anacortes had lowered the record to 55.30 during the 2A/3A prelims. The previous state record (56.90) was set in 1993 by Sammamish’s Maureen Phillips.

Phillips, who went on to a successful collegiate swimming career at Arizona, presented Kirk with her first-place butterfly medal.

Kirk was disappointed she didn’t get a chance to chat with Phillips.

“I tried to find her afterward,” Kirk said. “When people talk about the good ‘flyers that have come out of here, her name’s always one that comes up.”

Phillips was exiting the arena when asked about the Bremerton swimmer.

“The name (Kirk) sounded kind of familiar, but I’ve not really kept up to date much,” Phillips said. “I don’t think this is the last time I’ll be hearing her name. She’s fast and she’s going to get faster.”

Kirk has a best of 52.92 in the 100 fly, and had hoped to challenge the national high-school record of 52.42.

“I really wanted it, but I’ll race again,” she said. “It was a good swim, it wasn’t great, but it was by no means bad. I know there’s more inside of me and I just need to work harder, focus a little harder.”

What could she have done to make it a faster swim?

“Lots of little things,” Kirk said. “Better turns, you could probably breathe less, come in more excited. There’s so many things you can do looking back, but on the spur of the moment, it was the best I could do today”.

The butterfly has always been her event.

“That’s my baby,” she said, explaining that she likes the power and the energy of the stroke. “And, it’s ... it’s just a beautiful stroke.”

She spread her limbs while searching for the right words.

“It’s like a butterfly,” Kirk said. “It’s pretty.”

While she wasn’t pushed at all while flying through the water in the butterfly — Tahoma’s Judit Farkas was a distant second in 57.69 — Kirk’s victory in the 200 free over Chandler was hard-earned.

“I definitely had to fight for that,” Kirk said after opening a sizeable lead before holding off the Snohomish swimmer at the finish. “I knew if I was going to have any chance of beating Megan I was going to have to take it out.”

Kirk’s winning time (1:49.46) was the second-fastest 200 free in state history. Chandler’s personal-best 1:50.23 was the fourth fastest.

“That was gutsy,” Bremerton coach Mike Fitzgerald said of Kirk’s freestyle race. “We knew that girl had a stronger last 100, but Dana just gave it all at the front and said, ‘Catch me if you can.’ ”

Fitzgerald, a first-year coach and former Naval Academy swimmer who lived in Hawaii a year ago, has become one of Kirk’s biggest fans.

“She’s an inspiration to other high school girls,” Fitzgerald said. “We had nine other swimmers at the high school who were just getting into swimming or had just a little experience and she helps them out.

“She’s not an elitist. She’s an elite swimmer, but she doesn’t act like one.”

Throughout the high school season, Kirk trained with the Tacoma Swim Club in the early morning hours at the Foss High School pool, then worked out in the afternoon at the YMCA pool with her teammates.

“When she comes to my practices, she’s the leader,” Fitzgerald said. “She’s helping the team, not working for herself. She’s coaching, demonstrating and looking for the future of Bremerton High School.

“Some days, we’d actually do half of her workouts. I’d put fins on them and I would encourage my swimmers to try to push Dana. Say Dana’s doing an 800 swim. My kids would go 50 yards with her, then stop for 50 while Dana kept going. That was pretty cool, her letting us do that.”

Kirk’s older sister, Tara, has been portrayed to be the more focused of the sisters.

Kirk scoffs when asked about focus.

“Some people think you have to it in a chair with a towel over your head and think about your race when you get to the pool,” she said. “If that’s being focused, I’m not.”

Focused or not, her approach works. Don’t let her big smile and relaxed attitude fool you.

“Dana’s tough, very mentally tough,” Fitzgerald said. “She’s almost vicious. It’s not going to be someone shouting at her to make the Olympics. It’s going to be her. She’s got great fire in her.”

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