The Viking Swim Club is making waves, with young swimmers breaking club records from as far back as 1974. Scott Burt coaches the swim team at Petersburg’s Parks and Recreation Center. He started during the COVID-19 pandemic, and says the team has come far since then. VSC swimmers Tory Miller, Grady Walker, and Jackson Zweifel broke eight swimming records this year.

KFSK’s Shelby Herbert met with Burt to catch up on the Vikings’ exceptional season.

Shelby Herbert

Okay, Scott. So, I see you’re doing some math here? How do you account for scores in… Is this intramural swimming? What would you call it?

Scott Burt

So all private swim clubs are part of USA Swimming — the umbrella of USA Swimming. And, generally speaking, if it’s at a swim meet, where they are keeping scores, they assign point totals for like first place to get eight points and so on down the line. And then they tally up whoever has the most points, and then they see how the team scored and placed and then they’ll do individual top point awards for the age groups and stuff like that.

SH: Right on. And how does your team fit into that picture? How are they doing this season?

SB: They’re doing great. Most of the meets in the town trials that we’ve been on, or been tuned and had the good luck to participate in or not scored. It was just a chance for these kids to get in the water, swim against other swimmers from other states. But we did recently return from a group championship meet. And that was an amazing meet. It was held in Anchorage. In mid February, we took 17 swimmers, and there were 20 or 21 teams. I want to say there were 21 teams from across the entire state and this is a meet that is not an open invitation. It is a qualifying meet. So you have to meet certain time standards to go. So USA Swimming and Alaska swimming provides a goal, if you will. iI you want to swim and compete in this event, you have to meet this time. So we had a low 20s number of 22 or 23 kids that actually had times to qualify, we took 17 out of the 21 teams that were there. Our boys got to five and our girls got six. And as a team, we got eight. So I was very happy with those results.

SH: That’s exciting. You broke a couple records, right?

SB: Yeah, it’s been an amazing year for that. We’ve had eight club records broken since the season began. And three swimmers that have broken those. Tori Miller has broken club records in the 50 Fly, the 100 Fly — and most recently, just last week, the 100. Grady Walker has broken records in the 100 Fly, the 50 free, and the 100 free. And Jackson Zweifel has broken two club records in the 50 breaststroke and the 100 breaststroke. And most of these records had been on the board for quite some time — since 1974. So these are really impressive, impressive young swimmers.

SH: That’s awesome. And are these Petersburg records or regional age group records?

SB: That’s a great question. Now, these are club records. So these are records that as a club, we’ve got a board that you can see out the window there with all of our club records on it. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t state records. But the ones I just read are our club.

SH: That’s great. And how long have you been coaching?

SB: This is my third year. And it’s been an amazing year and an interesting journey. The first year I came on board was during COVID. And so swimming, at that time, was considered one of the safer sports to do, so we could still have limited time in the water. But we couldn’t have swim meets. So we did a lot of virtual swimming, we would compete against other teams. But we never had any head-to-head swimming. And so the first year or two were different. Our opportunities were limited. And I think that this is the first year that it seems like we’re back to normal — whatever normal is. But we’re traveling well. We’ve been to to Sitka this year, Ketchikan this year. Those are both open invitationals. We hosted November Rain, where teams from all across Southeast joined us. And then we just got back from age group championships from Anchorage.

SH: Wow, congrats on that sharp turn around. What is virtual swimming? I have to ask!

SB: So what we would do is we would have our swimmers swim with You know, we would have our officials on deck, we would have our timers. And and and it was an officially sanctioned meat. But instead of swimming side by side with other swimmers, we would do our competition against ourselves, right? And then the other teams would do the same thing. And then we would within a narrow period of two or three days, and then we would just combine all the results together. 

SH: Backtracking a few steps — can you tell me a little bit about about the different events?

SB: Sure. You know, we throw these terms around. But if you’re not familiar with swimming, that’s a great question. So in competitive swimming, there are four strokes for official strokes. There’s freestyle, which a lot of people also know is the front crawl. There’s backstroke, there’s breaststroke, and then there’s butterfly. And I guess we just get lazy and say, “fly.” for shorthand. 

SH: What is the most difficult to train for?

SB: They all have their own unique challenges. Freestyle is probably what most would consider kind of the bread and butter of swimming. The ‘front crawl,’ if you will — when kids start learning how to swim, that is the primary stroke that we work with, along with backstroke. Both freestyle and backstroke are what we call, ‘long axis strokes.’ You rotate your body around a long axis. No one is born knowing how to swim, so there’s always a learning curve. But those two tend to have less steep learning curves. The other two. breaststroke and butterfly, are more difficult to do. Breaststroke is probably technically the most difficult to master. Whereas, with butterfly — I think most swimmers would argue it’s physically the most demanding stroke to do. So each one is different in a different way.

SH: Thank you so much for breaking that down. I never would have guessed. 

SB: I mentioned earlier that Tory Miller broke the record in the 100. Again, that’s lingo — “IM” is short for an individual medley. And in a medley race, all four strokes are swum. So you go in this order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. So you’ve got to be good in all four strokes to be able to be successful in this event.

SH: Way to go, Tory! That’s incredible. So — especially now that you’re coming back from COVID, what is the picture of training?

SB: You know, to be successful in anything, you’ve got to put the time in. And so, with respect to the Viking Swim Club schedule, we have practice five days a week, every day. It’s every day. These kids are in the water every day of the week. And right now — this is day one of spring break. We have practice every day during spring break as well. So these kids put in a lot of time they worked so very hard.

SH: That’s intense, but it definitely sounds like it’s paying off. What’s next?

SB: We’re really excited — Southeast Champs is up next for us. It’s the 31st of March and the first and second of April. This meet will occur in Juneau — it’s an Open Invitational, so all kids are welcome to show up and compete. And at this point, I’m delighted to say we are taking 28 swimmers. That’s a huge group of kids to take, and that number may go up as we approach the deadline.

SH: Awesome. What would you say to anyone who’s interested in joining up next season?

SB: I’m so glad you asked. Reach out and talk to us, alright? They can get in touch with me — that’s probably the best way to go about getting involved. Right now, we are capped for a group. There’s only so many kids we can have in each group — whether it be for coaching purposes, or having enough lanes. In some groups, we have room and some groups, we don’t have room. But man, we’re always always welcome to get kids involved at whatever age — it doesn’t matter. Sometimes they have to get put on a short wait list. But I can promise you, it is worth the wait.

Shelby Herbert: Scott, is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t ask you today? 

SB: Yeah, there are, there is one important thing I want to make sure and share with you. And I’m not trying to take away from the records of our three swimmers. It’s incredible what they’ve accomplished. But being successful in swimming is not always just about breaking records. It’s about just improving your own times — whether those times are records or whether those times are not records. Swimming is an amazing sport. And I don’t care if you’re the slowest swimmer in the pool or the fastest swimmer in the pool. As long as you’re trying your best, you’re growing, you are improving — not just in your times, but in your discipline, your confidence in yourself. It’s not just always about time. It’s about good sportsmanship. Being part of a team. And every one of the swimmers on the Vikings Swim Club exhibits that and I’m proud of all of them.

SH: That’s a great note to end on. Thank you so much, Scott. I really appreciate your time. 

SB: You’re very welcome. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity.