A very eventful night at the pool

GJ wins District 51 swim title

Grand Junction’s Jessica Deters, top, trails Fruita Monument’s Kiaja Thomas by a hair Wednesday during the 200-yard freestyle championship race of the District 51 Championships at El Pomar Natatorium. Deters eventually passed Thomas to win the event.

The District 51 Championships at El Pomar Natatorium on Wednesday had a speech, an 18th birthday, roses passed out in honor of a friend, a ceremony to honor graduating seniors, and a coach drenched in the pool to celebrate the Grand Junction Tigers’ win.

All in one swimming and diving meet.

Grand Junction won 10 of the 12 events on Wednesday. Specifically, Jessica Deters won the 200-yard freestyle; and Taylor Kidd placed first in the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle and swam a leg on the Tigers’ winning 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay.

They had help. Some on the team had taken small, red candies labeled “FAST PILLS” on a prescription-like bottle. “Dr. Janet Ryan” and “Dr. Katie Fransioli’s” names were inscribed on the label. The directions: “To be taken by mouth right before each race.” They were Red Hots.

The candy perhaps helped the Tigers. Of their 21 swimmers, 10 are in their first year of swimming, Ryan said. Most lowered personal-best times, she said.

“They’re learning every time they swim,” said Grand Junction coach Janet Ryan, her hair still wet from being tossed in the pool. “If I look at all my swimmers, pretty much everybody dropped times in something today.”

But also highlighting the meet were red roses given from Fruita Monument and Grand Junction swimmers to those of Central/Palisade. Earlier this month, Central/Palisade head coach Steve Weir died of lung cancer, and assistant coach Melissa Barton will coach the remainder of the season in Weir’s place.

“Melissa is phenomenal,” said Palisade junior swimmer Currey Ventling. “I don’t know who else can do what she did and stay so strong for the team.”

Barton said the red roses handed out were thoughtful, and the Palisade/Central swimmers are pulling through the loss.

“The girls have been so resilient,” Barton said.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum was a birthday celebration.

Fruita Monument’s Kiaja Thomas turned 18 on Wednesday. The week has been a sudden bump into adulthood. On Tuesday, she enrolled in three classes at Colorado Mesa University. Last week, she used some of the money she had saved from working the past year at the Fruita Community Center, coupled with a loan from her dad, Chris Thomas, to purchase a Kia Sportage.

Thomas, who placed second in the 200 freestyle and swam a leg on Fruita Monument’s second-place 200 medley relay, said she is leaning toward attending Colorado State University at Fort Collins.

For her birthday, her dad gave her a wool hiking hat.

“I used to steal his wool hiking hat,” Thomas said.

But in the end, Grand Junction was the fastest in the water.

“This meet just brought a lot of people in the valley together,” Grand Junction swimmer Ellen Atkinson said. “It was almost a time to celebrate. The seniors said goodbye, there was throwing coach in the pool; everything clicked, and we realized the season is coming to an end.”


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