Ally Norman took her place in the Olympia-area swimming community almost by default.
The Olympia High School senior is the third Norman sister in coach Mel Smith’s program, with a fourth expected to join the team next fall.
“She’s part of the Norman tradition,” said Smith (81-18 dual meet record), now in his ninth year as the head girls swim coach at Olympia High School.
The way Norman tells it, her oldest sister, Chelsea, was the reason the whole family took up swimming. Chelsea brought home a swim club flyer one day and said, “I want to do this.”
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Chelsea swam for the old Poseidon Swim Club in her youth and later the Thurston Olympians Swim Club and grew up to be a captain for Smith in her senior season (2011) at Olympia.
Her father, Charlie, who according to Ally took up high school swimming in his home state of Maine when he didn’t make the hockey team, is a longtime coach for the Thurston Olympians.
Ally’s sister, Sarah, who graduated Olympia High last spring, was a Thurston Olympians fixture who went on to be a captain for the Bears and school-record holder and state placer in the 200-yard individual medley. Ally’s little sister, Rebecca, will join the program as a freshman next fall.
Swimming has been a part of Ally’s life since she was 6 years old.
“I was around the pool a lot,” she said. “It was a choice of hanging around the pool and not swimming, or being in the pool and practicing.”
She arrives at her senior season with three years as a state-meet competitor under her belt. Last year, she placed eighth in the state Class 4A 100 butterfly finals after a sixth-place state finish the year before. She also competed in the 100 backstroke at state last year.
The Bears are 3-1 in dual meets in the early season, including a 100-70 loss last week to Curtis, the Class 4A South Puget Sound League’s first-place team. Graduating senior swimmers hurt the relay teams this season, Norman said, but a strong underclass group has bolstered the teams, including 15 freshmen.
Ally’s goals for the season include improving her state placings and claiming a couple school records within reach of her personal best times in the butterfly (58.72 seconds) and backstroke (1:01.30).
Being a captain in Smith’s program is not casual or simply honorary.
“I knew going in it would take work,” Ally said, “but it’s a lot more work than I thought.”
While Smith focuses on the administrative tasks of coaching and running meets, the human relations side of team leadership falls to the captains.
“Any hiccup along the way, you’re responsible for smoothing it out,” she said. “Everything that happens with the girls, captains have to figure it out.”
Fortunately, this product of a swimming family finds a similar bond with her teammates.
“You really become like family with the rest of the team,” she said.
Norman’s senior-year class load includes German 4, British literature, advanced-placement physics, Web design and psychology. Her long-term goal, she said, is a career in international business with an emphasis on marketing, with her German-language skills likely playing a role.
Her swimming future, Ally said, will be determined by her senior high school season and the club season to follow. The 6-year-old who got into the pool because it seemed like the family thing to do has a sense of purpose, a dozen years later.
“It’s time to decide if after this year I’m done with swimming,” she said. “I’m definitely trying harder in practice to make all of them count.”