NASHUA -- Pepperell native Katie Szum qualified for the YMCA National Championship 100-meter breaststroke event in Dover, N.H., with a time of 1:21:87.
"The meet this weekend was pretty impressive," said Greater Nashua YMCA swim team head coach Christopher Pfaffenroth. "She tried for the cut on Friday -- missed it by less than a second. She came back on Saturday and tried to do the same thing and missed it again."
The 13-year-old Szum failed to qualify for nationals twice but did not let that stop her. On Sunday, Szum was given a final chance to qualify for the national YMCA event in Atlanta, Ga., where she finished just under the 1:22:1 cutoff time.
"It wasn't an actual part of a race, but it was a chance to swim it again just for time," the coach said. "After two rounds of not making it -- it would have been easy for her to give up and say 'this is not going to happen this year,' but she got in the water and went a second faster than she has ever gone."
Pfaffenroth has been the coach of the Greater Nashua YMCA swim team for two years. In those two years, Pfaffenroth recalls Szum being at almost every practice."She continually surprises me," the coach said. "She has literally dropped 23 seconds in her 100-breaststroke time. The kid works hard -- real hard."
Szum practices seven times per week at the YMCA of Greater Nashua, which equates to roughly 13-15 hours of pool time. Szum's weekly training does not end when she leaves the pool.
This week's meet will be the first at the national level for Szum, but she does have a feel for what to expect.
"In January, we took a trip to an invitational meet in Maryland," the coach said. "It was specifically designed to prepare kids to get ready to go to a national meet."
At other YMCA meets, swimmers typically stay with their parents in hotels, but that all changes when they compete at nationals.
"The parents drop their kids off at the airport and off we go to Atlanta," the coach said. "It is completely different from any other meet, where they go to and from the meet with their parents.
Here, they are in a room with their own teammates. That's a totally different experience when you go to and from the pool with your teammates for five days straight."
The nationals meet was a week long competition at the former host site of the 1996 Olympics, inside the Aquatics Center on the campus of Georgia Tech. The meet was held in what is considered a long-course pool, with the distance end-to-end measuring 50 meters.
Szum flew under the radar heading into the nationals meet, but that's OK with her coach.
"She stacks up toward the bottom half," the coach said about Szum's chances. "It will be a good meet for her to get experience. It is not like she is going in there as a favorite to do anything.
"She is going in there to see what she can do at a national meet," he said, "and, hopefully, walk away from that going into next year a little more prepared to place higher in the rankings."
Szum was joined in Atlanta by two of her teammates: Keelin Kendall, of Goffstown, N.H., who qualified in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events, and Joshua Rines, of Hollis, N.H., who qualified in both the 50- and 100-meter freestyle.
Szum finished the week's 100-meter national breaststroke competition in 132nd place, with a time of 1:24.58.
Follow Ed on Twitter/@EdNiser, Facebook.com/Nashobapublishingsports or Tout @eniser.