She's won local competitions as a pianist and songwriter. She's sold a Monet knockoff to a restaurant, done sketches, is taking a ceramics class, and had a couple of cartoons published in Splash, the U.S. Swimming bimonthly magazine. She was a 4.0 student at La Canada Junior High School, located near the famous Rose Bowl football stadium in a Los Angeles suburb. But, most of all, the lanky 5-foot-9 (172-cm) Carly Geehr is a phenomenal swimmer who last year smashed U.S. age-group records in the 11-12 girls division an incredible nine times.
"She's got a lot going for her," says Gary Anderson, the former Canadian backstroke/IM standout who is the Rose Bowl head coach. "She's big for her age, very intelligent, and strong-willed. She's very focussed on what she wants in swimming and an excellent racer. If you're looking for an athlete that has a good heart and loves to race, she's the prototype. She doesn't like to lose close competitions."
Geehr began her career as a competitive swimmer when she was eight years old. At a neighborhood barbeque, she raced a boy in the pool, lost, and was insulted. She immediately asked her mother to take her to the Rose Bowl club. A few weeks after joining that team, she beat the boy and a budding career was underway. Breaking down her record swims, Geehr lowered the national age group (NAG) record in the 100 m breaststroke four times, the 50 m breaststroke and the 200 yard individual medley twice each, and the 200 m individual medley once in 1997. Racing not just the clock but the calendar, she cracked the 200 m IM mark at last year's U.S. Open one day before she turned 13. She was fully tapered for six of her records.
There hasn't been an American that prolific in setting age group records since the legendary Chas Morton in the early 1980s. Morton, the Nashville swimmer who later competed at Stanford University, set 31 marks during his age group career, including 14 in the 11-12 division. The Geehr record Anderson remembers most was her first in the IM. After setting a 200 yard IM standard at the Southern California "Q" meet a year ago in January, the youngster came over to her coach and exclaimed, "Now, people know I'm not just a breaststroker." Geehr set her first age group mark (she has a total of 10 in her career) the preceding season with a 33.80 in the 50 m breast in the 1996 Western Zone championships. For Carly, the record that stands out was in the 100 m breast final at last year's summer nationals. She lowered her own mark by nearly two-and-a-half seconds to 1:09.87 to finish fourth and become the youngest swimmer ever to make the U.S. team for the Pan Pacific championships. "I never thought that was possible," she says. "I remember it (the race) didn't hurt at all. The best swims you have, they hurt, but you don't notice it. You go numb. You can't really feel it." At the Pan Pacs in Japan, Geehr didn't swim well and failed to make finals or consols with a 1:11.96 in the prelims. But that didn't spoil her trip. "I was a giant sponge there," she says. "I was trying to pick up everything I could. I met all sorts of different people. I was just there to gain experience. I learned how to deal with disappointment and that you can't do your best performance all the time. I try not to get emotional about it.
"The more you concentrate on the bad, the less you'll focus on the good. Your positive attitude will be gone. The mind controls everything. It can be used to your advantage or much to your disadvantage. I'm learning about that. It's helping me, especially in training."
|Carly Geehr, USA|
|BIRTHDATE||December 5, 1985|
|HEIGHT||5 ft. 9 in. / 172 cm|
|WEIGHT||130 lbs / 59 kg|
|NAG Record Progression|
|1996||age 11||50 m breast, winter nationals, 33.71|
|1997||age 12||50 m breast, winter nationals, 33.71|
|50 m breast, summer nationals, 33.38|
|100 m breast, winter nationals, 1:12.52p, 1:12.34|
|100 m breast, summer nationals, 1:10.38p, 1:09.87|
|200 m IM, U.S. Open, Dec., 2:20.41|
|1998||age 12||200 yard IM, Q meet in Jan., 2:05.92|
|200 yard IM, spring junior nationals 2:04.99|
Geehr has needed that outlook to remain optimistic this season. She's been bothered by a pulled groin muscle. Because of that, Anderson limited her breaststroke workouts for much of this season to rehab purposes and only to keep that stroke up to par for the IM. She's spent most of her time training for the 100 and 200 freestyles, along with the 200 IM. She's shown good potential in the freestyles. A year ago at the Janet Evans meet in Los Angeles, she bettered a 19-year-old Southern California age group mark in the 100 freestyle held by Hall of Famer Sippy Woodhead. Then this spring she placed sixth in the 200 free in 2:03.66 at the nationals in Minnesota. Although recently she began doing her usual breaststroke sets again, she may not swim that stroke at this summer's U.S. championships. "There are a lot of expectations on her," says Anderson. "There's no point in putting her up there if it is going to hurt her mentally because everyone's going to expect a 1:09 out of her."
Whenever there's a young female sensation in the breaststroke, it brings back memories of Olympic stars Anita Nall and Amanda Beard and others-Canadians can remember Allison Higson-who have faded quickly after reaching the top. "I can't tell you whether or not she's at that stage in her career because this year has been basically a write-off because of her injury," says Anderson. "But it wouldn't worry me because her freestyle is so good and her IM can be excellent. So she's going to have an excellent career regardless of whether her breaststroke comes back. "It's not like her breaststroke is doing poorly now. She's starting to do some decent sets again in practice, so the strength is coming back."
Anderson, though, is concerned about Geehr's rapid growth the past year that has seen the 13-year-old add two and a quarter inches (5 cm) in height and put on more than 10 pounds (5 kg). The coach has switched her to a different weight training program than the rest of the senior group, along with a couple of other young girls. "I am having to be very careful about what I do with her and when I do it based on how quickly she's growing and how her body is changing," he admits.
Anderson doesn't have Carly and the other young girls do a lot of free weights. They do more aerobic-type exercises for leg strength like the bikes and leg curls and leg extensions and hip abduction and adduction work. The upper body workouts are more strength-to-weight ratio exercises. "It has more to do with her body weight than lifting with free weights," he explains. "I want her to be strong for herself and her size. I don't want to play with her lifting weights. Potentially, if you lift free weights, you can hurt yourself if you're not aware of your body or your coordination is off." Anderson believes a coach can minimize the effects of a swimmer's growth. "I think a lot of young breaststrokers burn out from the mindset they have to an extent," he says. "There's no reason why you can't make technical adjustments in the water and to your weight training and dryland programs. I think the strongest tool any athlete has is their mind. Carly is very smart. If there's a way to do it, she'll figure it out."
Geehr is aware of the history of young girls in her specialty. "Everyone has warned us that breaststrokers disappear," says Geehr's mother, J.T. But the young phenom is not worried. "I'm not just a one-event wonder," proclaims Geehr, who has junior national cuts in every stroke. "If my breaststroke goes-and I don't think it will ever be bad for my IM-I have the IM and freestyle to fall back on. If it does start to fade, I won't give up without working hard on it, though." Anderson adds, "She could be whatever she wants to be in swimming. If she wants to pursue the sport through 2000 and 2004, she has the potential to make the Olympics and win a gold medal."