NEW TAMPA – Fourteen-year-old Sam Sands learned to swim before he could walk. His passion for the sport has grown stronger with each passing year.
He's been swimming on the Stingrays swim team at the New Tampa YMCA since age 5 and while putting in five to eight practices a week – sometimes at 5 a.m. before school – he manages to be a straight-A student at Benito Middle School and represent his school as a cellist in the All-County Orchestra.
As a testament to his swimming ability, Sam, the son of Will and Brenna Sands, earned a spot on the Florida Swimming all-star team that recently triumphed over the Florida Gold Coast team, 656 to 614, in a meet at Indian River College in Fort Pierce.
It was Sam's third time to qualify for the all-star team, with the others being in 2011 and 2013. His favorite strokes are freestyle and backstroke.
“This is a very big meet in Florida for kids 14 and under,” said Stu Wilson, head swim coach at the New Tampa YMCA. “It's a stepping stone for qualifying for a higher level to compete against the best of the best.”
Wilson describes Sam as a “really, really good swimmer” who is very coachable.
“Sam definitely is a very hard worker and very committed,” said Wilson, who likens Sam's work ethic in the pool to the way the teenager approaches his school and musical responsibilities.
“If he sticks with it I think he's got bigger and better things ahead,” he said.
Sam said improving his swimming skills every year has taught him discipline and organization, strengths that also have helped him excel in school and as a musician.
“But more than anything it's got to be fun,” said Sam, who noted he especially enjoys volunteering his time to help Wilson coach free stroke clinics at the Y.
Sam's father credits much of his son's success to his “great” support network.
“His teammates and coach challenge him in practice and keep it fun,” Will Sands said. “His teachers help him stay on track with his education and music.”
Brenna Sands said Sam's growth and improvement over the past year have been fun to watch.
“We look forward to seeing what his high school years will bring,” she said.
Sam, the second eldest of the four children in his family, will attend Jesuit High School in the fall, where he hopes to be on the swim team.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]