It is not always the fastest time that brings the biggest applause as Juneau-Douglas High School sophomore swimmer C.J. Umbs finds out each time he enters a race and his teammates reinforce each time they watch him swim.
"He is always cheering for people," JDHS junior 500 freestyle specialist Claressa Ullmayer said. "Swimming is kind of my passion in life, its what I do. The hard work pays off. But as much as I love this I think C.J. loves it more than any of us ... he helps us to realize our passion."
The Bears' rode that wave of passion to a combined team score on Friday with 215 points. Ketchikan had 136, East 91, Sitka 87, Petersburg 71, Thunder Mountain 32, Craig 25, and Metlakatla 1. Saturday, JDHS finished with 221, Ketchikan 160, East 83, Petersburg 81, Sitka 71, TMHS 24 and Craig 20.
Umbs, who was born with Down Syndrome, is 16 but is cognitively about 9 or 10. Yet passions have no age limit or requirement or physical limitations and Umbs too has dropped time, shaving 13 seconds off his 100 free and 31 off his 200.
"He doesn't express discomfort," Umbs mother says. "He just does it. He doesn't realize that swimming is a lot of hard work."
Umbs also has a year of Glacier Swim Club on his resume. His mother says Umbs would be lost without these programs.
"Six months ago he did his first flip turn," his mother said. "The team makes him feel like family, it is socialization for him."
"He makes me feel good," junior Cody Schick said. "I think he helps the team, brings us together. I know I work harder. And this is a lot of hard work, a lot of time and practice to reach the level I want and keep my head in it."
This is Umbs' second year on the Bears. He started swimming nine years ago, and is an eight-time special Olympian. Schick is one of his heroes.
"I like that," Schick said. "Because he is mine. It is nice to have someone to look up to."
Juliane Lukshin had been good friends with Umbs in kindergarden, lost contact with him, and they resurfaced in the pool.
"He encourages everybody," Lukshin said. "He gives high-fives, he's enthusiastic."
Thunder Mountain senior Anna Bullock, clapping for Umbs in the water, continues to drop time in the 200 free.
"I could have gone faster, I had too much energy at the end," Bullock said. "This takes tons of workouts but I'm happy with where I'm at right now, and I have a long way to go."
Senior Bears swimmer Katy Goodell didn't participate in the weekend meet but was Umbs event coordinator for the meet.
"I think it makes us a lot more serious," Goodell said. "And playful too. It helps us realize what we have. Our team is very supportive of him."
Senior Dillion Scranton showed how much fun, by leading off the 200 free relay on a 'B' JDHS team of divers with a spinning twisting corkscrew off the starters platform.
"Hey, we're all divers," Scranton said. "We don't dislike swimming, we just love diving more. And it's senior night."
Umbs appreciated the gesture, applauding and yelling and laughing right along with his teammates.
"Team's important," Umbs said through interpretation by his mother. "I don't really like my swim hat, but I have a lot of friends here."
Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.