Claire Tuggle looks like a typical unassuming, mild-mannered 10-year-old fifth grader - but looks can be deceiving - in a swimming pool, her mechanical skills mixed with her competitive spirit, transforms her into a swimming phenom, showing no mercy to the girls she competes against.
If other swimmers and coaches did not know Tuggle at the start of last week’s U.S.A. Swimming Far Western Championships in Morgan Hill - They certainly knew her and where she was from after she broke not one - but two national records in her age group (10 and under).
Both records were broken in the finals after some of the best swimmers in the age division from across the western states qualified from three heats.
First she broke the record in the 200 yard freestyle with a time of 1:58.20 on April 16. The national record was 1:59.0 set in 2008 by Ella Eastin of Irvine. She currently swims for Stanford - the same school the young Tuggle has her eyes on.
As if one national record wasn’t enough, On April 17, Tuggle entered the pool again and broke the national 500 yard freestyle record with a time of 5:13.74, almost three seconds faster than the 5:16.52 by Tina Papadopoulos 10 years earlier. The 500 is the only event in the competition that the girl’s record is faster than the boy’s record.
In the 500, no one was even close to Tuggle. Half way through the race (20 - 25 yard laps), she was a full pool length ahead of the closest swimmer to her, and two pool lengths ahead at the end of the race.
But the humble swimmer seemed more excited that she improved on her times in both races, than the fact she now holds two national swim records.
“I improved my time in the 200 by four seconds and in the 500 by nine seconds,” Tuggle said. “My goal is to make the U.S. Junior Nationals Meet by the time I’m 12.”
She has been swimming competitively for two and a half years, and is a member of the Yosemite Marlins Swim Club.
Marlins Head Coach Tammy Kudela said Tuggle is very goal oriented.
“I knew when she made those goals about nine months ago to break the 200 and 500 records, she was going to do it,” Kudela said. “She knew she had to increase her level of training going into this journey, and it’s so great when a swimmer sees the benefit of their hard work.”
During the season, Tuggle, along with her advanced Marlin teammates, practices two hours a day, four days a week, swimming about 20,000 yards (12 miles) a week.
Sisters, Parker Jones, 13, and Coury Jones, 12, are members of the Marlin’s advanced group and both agree that training with Tuggle, and their coaches, make them better swimmers.
“Claire is very driven, and she pushes others to go faster, along with our coaches who encourage us to do the best we can and try our hardest,” Parker said.
Coury said she is inspired by Tuggle because “she shows that if you work hard you can achieve your goals.”
Each swimmer had the opportunity to select the music they wanted playing when they approached the starting blocks - Tuggle selected “Don‘t Stop Believing,” by Journey for her 200 yard race, and ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” for the 500.
Nothing Tuggle does is a surprise to Michelle Burton, her teaches the straight A student at Oakhurst Elementary School.
“Claire is an exceptional girl who, even with her busy schedule, excels academically, is a hard worker, a leader amongst her peers, and is a fiercely competitive athlete,” Burton said. “She meets every challenge, and really stands out as a star student.”
The young Tuggle is the daughter of Todd and Jules Tuggle of Oakhurst, and her two brothers, Theo, 14, and Max, seven, are also outstanding swimmers on the team. Jules coaches the Marlins with Kudela.
The team has a meet in Reedley this weekend and soon will switch to ‘long course’ swimming.
Yosemite Marlins Swim Club
The Yosemite Marlins Swim Club was established just about a year and a half ago. The nonprofit club is owned by Yosemite Unified School District and sanctioned by USA Swimming which is the governing body for competitive swimming associated with the U..S. Olympic team.
The team is a year round competitive swim team offering high quality, professional coaching and technique instruction for all ages and abilities. The goal of the program is to provide every member an opportunity to improve swimming skills and achieve success at his or her level of ability.
All of the Marlin coaches, as members of the American Swimming Coaches Association, have access to the most comprehensive training and certification program for youth coaches of any sport in the country.