The Aquakids won’t just be swimming for themselves this weekend at the Arkansas Short Course State Championships in Little Rock — they’ll be swimming for orphans in Haiti.
The state championships, which will be held in the Donaghey Student Center on the campus of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock starting on Friday and running through Sunday, are hosting many of the state’s top swimming clubs, but the Aquakids have brought an interesting twist to this year’s event.
The Aquakids, a youth swimming club based in Conway, have a theme this weekend, “Aquakids Swimming Fast for Haiti.” For every Aquakid swimmer who records a personal best time over the course of the weekend, then the swimmer or a family member will donate a dollar, which will go toward the relief of orphans in Haiti. Many local business owners have agreed to match the dollar amount that the club raises over the weekend.
“I know that we are not going to raise just a ton of money because there are 350 kids total participating at the state meet, but it’s good that we’ve gotten the commitment of some businesses to match what we raise,” Aquakids coach Evan Johnston said, who is credited with coming up with the idea. “All of the kids have responded to this well. It’s kind of funny because we had one kid ask could he still donate even though he didn’t get a personal best. It’s just something hearing an 11-year-old ask that, and wanting to help. We have some kids who are not going to make the trip, and they want to give a donation anyway. Everyone has really gotten on board and all of the kids have responded positively to this.”
Johnston said his swimmers are just as excited about the fundraising event as they are about participating in the state meet.
“This is really great because what our kids are doing is helping other kids,” Johnston said. “This is going to go a long way in our kids’ lives. They can feel that they are a part of helping others in their lives. We’re just really trying to give back. We always try to come up with a theme relating to what’s going on in the world, and the kids liked the idea. They’ve made T-shirts and all.”
The Aquakids are sending 45 participants to the state meet, in the four different age divisions, starting with the 10 and under group. Johnston has high expectations for his club and hopes they can finish in fourth. The favorites to win the meet are the host, the Little Rock Dolphins. The Dolphins also have the most swimmers in the state along with the AquaHawgs, an Arkansas swim club based in Fayetteville.
“Every time I predict where we should finish, then usually I’m wrong,” Johnston said. “We should finish about fourth. Fourth place is probably a good measuring stick for us. If we finish higher than fourth — then great — but if we finish lower than fourth, then we didn’t swim to what we are capable of.”
Johnston summed this season up as being a success in that it has been one of the best years for kids breaking longtime records.
“I think team-wise we are as strong as we have ever been,” Johnston said. “We have some 8-and-under little boys who are breaking records all over the place. All these swimmers put a lot of time and hard work into it. That’s always a testament to the parents.”