Before sophomore Alex Karulin splashed into the pool to compete in the 100-yard backstroke, a Lake Washington High timer turned and jokingly noted, “He’s pretty good.”
On the afternoon of Jan. 18 at the Juanita Pool, Karulin ripped through another race, finishing first and nearly beating his LW school record and 3A state-qualifying time of 55.03 seconds (which stood at press time). After the meet, which also featured swimmers from Juanita, Bellevue and Redmond, Karulin pointed out that his best time in the 100 back is 53.02, which he achieved while swimming for Pro Club of Bellevue.
“I feel like I’ve got a strategy this year: my first 50, I just go out as fast as I can and then try to hold on. It hurts a lot, but it works,” Karulin said of the 100 back. “I’ve been doing swim for awhile and it’s always been one of my best. I guess it’s just the best of my abilities to do. It’s kind of a good mix of both sprint and pacing, so I tend to do well in that kind of stuff.”
Karulin has been involved with the sport since his parents pushed him toward it at age 7-8, he recalled. He enjoyed it from day one and still gets a thrill out of plunging into the water and competing. “It’s just a lot of fun. I try to push myself to the max and just see where I can go,” he said.
It’s an honor to break the LW record during his first year of high-school swimming — and Karulin hopes to set a new record over the next few years.
Karulin laughs when noting that he knows the swimmer, Keane Suen, who held the old record of 55.29. That time stood for about two years before Karulin stepped onto the scene.
Suen is now a lifeguard at Pro Club and received the news from his brother.
“He’s in college now, so he’s OK with me beating it,” Karulin said with a smile.
Slicing up the water for Juanita are juniors Eugene Ngo in the 200-yard freestyle and Enoch Lee in the 200-yard individual medley. Though they hadn’t notched state times yet at press time, Ngo’s best mark was 1:55 and Lee had reeled off a 2:14.58 in their respective events.
Ngo, who went to state in a relay his freshman year, nailed his top 200 free club time of 1:54 as a member of Gold’s Aquatics of Woodinville.
“This year, my goal is to make it to state. I’ve still got the high-competition meets postseason, so I’m looking forward to it, but we’ll see how it goes,” Ngo said after the Jan. 18 meet, during which Bellevue beat LW, 103-77, and Redmond downed Juanita, 101-70.
To snag a state time, Ngo said he needs to nail his “walls,” or kickouts, when going from each 50-yard segment to the next in 20o free.
He followed his friends into the pool and began swimming competitively in eighth grade.
“The first year, I loved it. It’s had tough spots, but I’ve also had some great times swimming,” Ngo said.
Ngo doesn’t hesitate when rattling off what he enjoys most about swimming: It’s the tight, exhilarating races that get the crowd and swimmers’ teammates and coaches cheering at full roar.
“It drives you to go fast, no matter what. You’ll notice that you feel faster and sometimes your times even drop by a significant amount,” he said. “It’s a little disappointing when you get out-touched, but it happens — it’s swimming.”
Putting a positive spin on a loss, Ngo notes that swimmers can gain motivation from those moments to work harder to possibly pull out a win next time.