Pooling Their Talents

“Yelling is my specialty,” says Cate Sheridan ’23. “At our final relay, I was screaming so hard that my vision became spotty. It was just so exciting because it was the last 50 meters, and I was like, ‘Guys, we’re going to do it.’”

They did do it. The relay team of Sheridan, Isabel Apfel ’22, Lily Palmerino ’24, and Salma Abu-Elnaj ’24 swept the relays at the DC State Athletic Association (DCSAA) finals. The four swimmers won the 200-meter medley relay, the 200-meter free relay, and the 400-meter free relay. The team’s time in the 400-meter relay was so good, they set a DCSAA meet record. Those wins then propelled the girls’ team to a third-place finish overall.

On the individual side, Sheridan won gold in the 100-meter butterfly, Apfel took silver in the 100-meter free, Palmerino took bronze in the 50-meter free, and Abu-Elnaj took bronze in the 100-meter backstroke. But individual races rack up fewer points than team relay races; not to mention that more individual events mean less energy for the relays. So, in a show of Sidwell Friends solidarity and spirit, each swimmer elected to give up an individual event to better support the team as a whole.

Since relays offer double points toward the final overall team score, Coach Megan Miller asked the girls to sacrifice one of their individual events and swim in an extra relay together. The idea, says Abu-Elnaj, is to “gain more points from that one relay than we probably would have from our individual races. We all knew that meant a little bit less glory on our part, but it would be better for the team.”

That rather Quaker message of team over individual may not be strategy, but it was definitely part of the calculus. “All of us are club swimmers outside of School, and there we really focus on ourselves,” says Apfel. “But when we’re with the School team, we really focus on coming together on behalf of Sidwell because we’re representing what our School means.”

Just like no one can win a relay alone, a relay team alone can’t win a meet. Jason Babcock ’24 took gold in the 50-meter free, helping the boys’ team to a seventh-place finish, and Desi Amprey ’25 took gold in diving. 

“We could not be prouder of all who swam,” Miller says. “All the athletes who participated swam their hearts out and earned personal bests. They placed team over individual needs—and the smiles and laughter after the meet showed it was worth it.”

Of course, the girls are quick to share the credit with Miller. “Coach Miller wanted us to contribute as a whole more than we could by ourselves,” said Apfel. “She really saw the potential that we could all have as four of us, rather than just by ourselves—and that’s something that we couldn’t see in ourselves.”

It turns out, the force that really propels a swimmer through the water is their teammates.

“Even if most of your events are individual, your teammates are the ones helping you get there,” said Palmerino. “During practice, they’re the ones who are helping you. If you’re having a tough time, they’re giving you encouragement. And when you get to a meet, the hype and the energy just helps everyone move faster.”

Apfel agrees. “I’ve been on all sorts of different relay teams and none of them were like this,” she says. “None of them were as tight as we are.” Other teams don’t always promote that closeness and instead put all the focus on one athlete at a time. As a result, Apfel says, those teams don’t want the relay win as badly as the Sidwell Friends team collectively does.

“Don’t underestimate us,” Sheridan says. “Because I can guarantee you—we can prove you wrong.”

 

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