Mental toughness has been just as important as physical talent, if not more so, for David LaFlamme and Brooke Fuller.
The Bee's Swimmers of the Year reached new personal heights this season, each with two Sac-Joaquin Section Championship final places.
Both cited the reward of faster times as motivation to keep jumping in the pool every day, completing miles of laps in a sport largely individual in nature.
"I didn't expect the year I had," said Fuller, a junior at Johansen High. "I felt like I swam really well overall. I felt really great in the water."
This is the second consecutive year LaFlamme has been named The Bee's boys Swimmer of the Year.
LaFlamme talks more happily about his future than his achievements at Beyer High. He'll pursue national records at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo this fall and is eager to see what's in store leading up to the next Olympic Games in 2012.
"I've got another four years of crazy training still," LaFlamme said. "I like that a lot. I know it's going to be work. Working out is what I like to do.
"I'm excited about the next four years, gearing up for U.S. Opens and Junior Nationals and college after that, the NCAAs and meets like that."
LaFlamme won the section title in the 200-meter freestyle and four-tenths of a second shy of winning the 100 butterfly, both events he won as a junior.
LaFlamme's winning 200 free time was 1 minute, 38.04 seconds.
It was tough to accept he'd come in second in the 100 fly, but LaFlamme was able to stay positive. He felt stronger than ever in the water and refused to agonize about any missed goal.
"It was a good year," LaFlamme said. "I can't complain. I had two of the best times. I wanted to do more, but it was a good year."
His senior season was one absent of the tendonitis that made swimming a painful proposition last summer. LaFlamme said he did exercises utilizing his own body weight instead of lifting dumbbells to get stronger.
"That helped a lot," LaFlamme said. "I'd do pull-ups, stuff like that. My shoulders weren't hurting as much. I had a pretty bad shoulder and couldn't train for a couple months last year."
LaFlamme's club training with Ripon Aquatics coach Ervin Zador has had the greatest impact on his swim career. Zador helped the Yugoslavia water polo team win gold at the 1956 Olympics. He's been where LaFlamme would like to be.
Zador said LaFlamme has a lot going for him. He uses technique and good strokes to improve instead of "brute force" and knows how to train hard yet still preserve himself mentally and physically.
At 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, LaFlamme is still growing, Zador said. But he's in a good position as he enters college.
"David started as a tiny little fellow and he's made himself up in a big way," Zador said. "This year he became more of a central character in boys swimming in Stanislaus County. He can only do better. He's not used up. He's very smart. He has lots of learning to do, but I expect him to do well the next four years in college."
Fuller's year exceeded her expectations. She finished fourth in the 100 free and fifth in the 200 free. The 200 free was particularly challenging at the section finals. Fuller said she was trying to remember so many things in less than two minutes from the gun to the wall.
"It's the most nerve-wracking swim for me," Fuller said. "It's not a sprint, but it's not like it's easy, either. You have to pace it just right. When I was done and I got the time I did, I was very happy."
Fuller set a school record in the 200 free (1:52.77) and her 100 free time of 51.71 seconds was an automatic All-American qualifier.
Johansen coach Brent Bohlender said few swimmers can keep up with Fuller in the pool and in determination. Though he knew she had a good work ethic, Fuller's times in her first varsity season blew Bohlender away.
"I know she wanted to break a minute in the 100 back," Bohlender said. "That one I thought was a little out of reach. Her whole season was like that. She had goals that looked like they'd be a little far out and she came up every time. She came up big."
Fuller went 59.92 in the 100 back and set a school record of 28.72 in the 50 back. Rather than obsessing about her times, Fuller said she concentrates on doing her best and feels blessed no matter what the outcome.
She says a little prayer before every competition that helps her keep things in perspective.
I tell the Lord, 'Take this race; not my will, but may yours be done,' " Fuller said. "That really helps me relax. I've done that since my freshman year.
"When I focus on times too much, I find it throws me off. What happens, happens. I just go for it."
New to Fuller's workout regimen was increased out-of-water conditioning. Fuller started training with Cal State Stanislaus strength and fitness director Matt Fraze in November.
"It was hard in the beginning, but once I got the hang of it, we added more and he kept pushing me," Fuller said of Fraze. "I'm still doing it. I feel like it made me stronger. It's actually kind of refreshing instead of just being in the water 24/7."
Bee staff writer Kelly Jones can be reached at 578-2300 or email@example.com.