Swimmers, take your mark.

It’s been 20 years in the making, but Vineyarders will finally be able to hear those words ring out through the aquatic center on Sunday at the YMCA’s inaugural swim meet. The first Island swim team, the Makos, will take to the blocks at noon against the Nantucket Dolphins.

The Makos have traded in salty hair for swim caps, bathing suits for Speedos, and stinging eyes for goggles since November every day after school. Coach Leslie Craven designs every practice to have a purpose, and Wednesday night team members were focusing on relays.

“This is the highest level of swimming I’ve ever been able to teach on the Island,” Ms. Craven said while the kids swam their warm-ups. But the process of getting to their home meet has been one of discovery — none of the swimmers has been on a swim team before.

“They don’t seem to realize that it’s actually a lot of work,” Ms. Craven said. “Practices are an hour and a half, which is a long time for someone who’s 11 years old. That’s been a big challenge. But how to swim a clean race and not get disqualified, they pick up on that quite quickly. That’s easy. The hard part is the mileage. These kids are swimming five to eight miles a week, each workout is 2,000 yards.”

Coach Craven: a great challenge. — Ray Ewing

But the swimmers did not complain when she asked them to swim their warm-up laps or put a pull buoy in between their legs so they could only use their arms. It may seem like torture to some, but the kids happily started their breathing exercise in the water of alternating strokes and breaths.

“The final 50 [yards] of your 150 [yards] is going to bite,” she warned them. After they completed their laps, Ms. Craven naturally asked who had cheated. No one would fess up.

“Oh, come on, I cheated this morning,” she joked with them. The groans of doing more laps began to set in. “I have no sympathy for you. Most people are in love with their pull buoys.” The buoys correct any bad posture in the swimmer’s stroke.

“We know the team is going to grow as years go by, but these kids have been extremely dedicated since the program started in the summer,” team administrator and competitive swimmer Julian Villegas said on the bleachers. “A lot of parents are very excited and the kids are really excited. It’s the first meet ever here on Martha’s Vineyard, in a really beautiful community setting.”

Makos coach Leslie Craven coaxes all-ages team through training. — Ray Ewing

Mr. Villegas manages the 55 swimmers who will be competing from the Vineyard this weekend but has hopes for 70 swimmers by next term. Two groups will jump in the pool on Sunday; one is the YMCA team of mixed ages and the other is the high school swim club. The swim club has yet to compete this year, but the YMCA team has had two meets so far and for the first time they’ll have home pool advantage.

“I think it’s going to be a really good, positive thing for the entire Island,” Mr. Villegas said. “It’s a great asset for the entire Island to have a new sport the kids have developed into great swimmers.”

The Makos are part of the recreational Southeastern Massachusetts Swim League but hope to join a YMCA league and eventually become a United States team, maybe someday training their kids to be at Division 1 and Division 2 college levels. But for now they are concentrating on reaching out to the community and building their team.

swimming lanes
Ray Ewing

“To be honest we don’t have large numbers, but it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the quality of swimming,” Mr. Villegas said. “I always tell the kids that and it’s amazing how many of these kids have grown up to be great swimmers and I think the league is very impressed.”

Sunday’s event will feature kids from across the Island, but it’s also a chance for the high school swim club of 33 to get their feet wet quite literally for the first time.

“They’re clueless,” coach Robin Tuck said yesterday afternoon of the students who have never had a meet. “They’re like, is this a race, what are we doing Sunday?”

The high school students are four weeks into their training of the 12-week program, and swimming ability ranges from novice to high qualifiers. In order for them to compete in their own meets on and off-Island, swimmers will participate in time trials so they can be placed in their respective classes.

Breathing all the way to the finish. — Ray Ewing

“It’s going very well for kids who have had nothing but swim lessons their whole lives,” Ms. Tuck said. “It’s really a fantastic group of supportive kids.” The high school team’s first meet is Jan. 24.

The Makos were putting on the final touches to their strokes this week, making sure they understood how to properly turn underwater without getting disqualified and practicing their shallow dives. They cheered each other on during a practice relay run, shouting “Come on! Come on!” as one diver flew over the swimmer below them in hopes of catching up with the swimmer in their neighboring lane.

Cap and goggles replace salty hair and sunglasses. — Ray Ewing


The Vineyard Makos vs. the Nantucket Dolphins swim meet begins at noon on Sunday at the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard on Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. All are welcome.