Tyler Sharp was a state-qualifying swimmer in 2013 for Capital High School, then for 10 months post-graduation, he swam the same waters and shared the same facility as Olympic gold-medal winners Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Bremerton’s Nathan Adrian. He even got to meet the trio.
The 19-year-old recently returned to Olympia after what he described as a “life-changing” atmosphere in Colorado Springs, Colorado, receiving world-class training at the United States Olympic Training Center. He hopes, in part, the skills he’s learned will land him a spot representing the U.S. in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
“It’s training, living and breathing swimming,” Sharp said.
Sharp was born with a shortened left arm that ends just past the elbow, a result of a prenatal blood clot that severely stunted the arm’s growth. His swimming background is brief, as he didn’t turn out for the Cougars until he was a junior. He swam with the Olympia-based Evergreen Swim Club.
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Now that he’s back home, he’ll train with his former Evergreen coach, Josh Trotter, with the goal of qualifying for the national ‘B’ team by September, one of many on Sharp’s check-list to stay on track for Rio. If achieved, he said, there’s a good chance he’ll make the national traveling team, which in turn, will lead to more international competition and a professional swimmer status.
But Sharp has been on the international stage before. In 2012 and ‘13, he competed in the Spring Speedo Can-Am Games, earning eight top-eight places. That caught the attention of paralympic representatives, encouraging Sharp to consider an opportunity to continue swimming.
Sharp, without hesitation, on the opportunity to train amongst other elite athletes.
“Nothing compares,” he said. “Being able to make that your life is a lot of challenges in itself. It’s great being around an atmosphere training and being the best. Everyone is competing with each other.”
Primarily a 400-meter freestylist and 200 individual medley specialist, Sharp’s times of 5 minutes, 2 seconds and 2:48, respectively, are on the verge of top 20, and he noted he’s climbed 22 spots in just nine months of training.
In time, he hopes to move up another 17 spots to get into the top-three needed to qualify for Rio.
“It’s very doable,” he said. “Now with all the times, everything is really close. A small time change, and I drop a lot of spots. It’s very exciting.”
Trotter, who has worked with Sharp in recent years, said the 19-year-old has the tools to get to Rio, starting with support and motivation.
“And he’s got both,” Trotter said. “There’s obviously some physical attributes that swimmer need,” he added, including flexibility and pure athleticism.
“He’s a good athlete.”
Practices in Colorado Springs were rigorous — he swam twice day, three days a week, totaling 10,000 meters each day while consuming an average of 10,000 calories daily. In all, he practiced five days a week, while spending his free time working at a hotel and taking online college courses.
But drive and passion for being in the pool were factors for Sharp wanting to push himself to represent Team USA.
“This is the best opportunity,” he said. “I always push myself to do the best at what I can be.”