WESTPORT, Conn. – Not only did Verity Abel win a national championship at the YMCA Long Course Swimming Nationals, the Westport girl also accomplished it in one of the toughest events for a young swimmer.
Abel, a rising junior at Staples High School, won the 1,500 meters freestyle while competing for the Wilton Wahoos. She finished the nearly mile-long swim in 17:04.29, nearly 37 seconds faster than her seeded time.
“The more you swim an event, the easier it is to handle,’’ Abel said. “You know it’s going to be a challenge. Your body will go through some physical stress.
"Mentally, it has become a lot easier to handle. You’re able to push aside the pain that you’re in when you’re in the heat of competition. You’re focusing on who’s around you and how well you’re doing.”
Abel also had Top 10 finishes in two other individual events and three relays during last month's meet, which featured top YMCA swimmers from across the United States. Abel’s big meet helped the Wahoos finished second overall and in the girls team scoring.
The signature race for Abel was the 1,500. The race is included in only a few top meets and is similar to the 10,000 meters in track and field. It requires a blend of speed and endurance that not many can muster. Because of its physical demands, few young athletes do it. Abel, 16, has embraced it. She finished 13th in her first YMCA nationals in the event two years ago and was fifth last year.
Abel took the lead at the outset in the YMCA race and expanded it, winning by more than five seconds and qualifying for U.S. Junior Nationals. She also qualified for Junior Nationals in the 400 freestyle and 800 freestyle.
Abel also finished third in the 800 free, sixth in the 400 free, and 11th in the 200 free. She helped the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relays team finished second and the 4 x 50 relay team finished fourth. It was a tiring but rewarding week for Abel at the Georgia Tech pool in Atlanta.
“This was the most exhausting series of events I’ve ever swam,’’ Abel said. “I’ve never done all distance events, and they were completely front-ended on the week. The only events I had on Thursday and Friday were relays. But after Wednesday, I was exhausted.”
She passed on Junior Nationals, which start Sunday in Indianapolis, to recover from the long season. Abel will swim in the fall for Staples, but she can expect a bit of a break. The longest race during the high school season is 500 meters, a veritable sprint for her.
But Abel knows her future lies in endurance swimming events. “This is definitely my life and my future,’’ Abel said. “It’s hard work, but I love it. It’s the kind of sport you can continue your whole life.”