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Claire Tuggle, one of the top young swimmers in the nation, joins Central Coast swim scene
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Claire Tuggle, one of the top young swimmers in the nation, joins Central Coast swim scene

Claire Tuggle.jpg

Santa Maria Swim Club member Claire Tuggle recently committed to swim for the University of Virginia. The young star has also qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials scheduled for next year. 

The list of events in which Santa Maria Swim Club member Claire Tuggle did NOT qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials was a short one.

“I think there were only two events in which she didn’t qualify,” said SMSC coach Mike Ashmore, who is also the head of the organization.

“My best event is the 200 (meters) freestyle,” said Tuggle. “My personal best is 1 minute, 58.2 seconds.

“When we got (to the Trials), Mike and I were going to look things over and decide what events I was going to do.”

The Trials never took place. The 2020 Olympic Swim Trials was one of a raft of events that were postponed or cancelled in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was pretty disappointing for sure, because my whole swimming (training plan) was geared around 2020,” said Tuggle.

However, “It was a pretty tough year swimming for me in 2020.”

She was just coming off a December move to the area from Clovis, with her family, in the first part of 2020 when schools statewide closed in March because of the pandemic.

All of the area pools soon closed as well. Thus, “It’s best that I get another year of swimming under my belt,” before the Trials, which have tentatively been re-scheduled for 2021, said Tuggle.

Tuggle, who committed to swim for the University of Virginia last month, won the girls 500 freestyle and finished second in the 200 free at the 2019 CIF State Meet when she was a freshman at Clovis North High School.

She and her family moved to the Central Coast the day after Christmas that year. Ashmore said his club had been acquainted with the Tuggles before their move to the area, since the family would sometimes visit when they came to the area for club swimming meets at Paul Nelson Pool.

Claire Tuggle said she has been swimming competitively since age nine. She was a sophomore at Righetti High School in 2020, and had been with her SMSC teammates a few months, when the schools and the pools shut down.

After being closed for more than a year, first because of renovation and then because of the pandemic, Paul Nelson, the SMSC’s home pool, re-opened July 20.

The SMSC returned to the pool July 21 for workouts. “I was happy to re-join my teammates,” said Tuggle. “I’d missed the team aspect of swimming.”

She was happy to be back in the water at Paul Nelson Pool with her teammates even though, “I had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning,” for workouts that start at 5:30 a.m. at the Paul Nelson Pool facility.

For social distancing purposes, Ashmore had separated his swimmers by age group for workout slots that run from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., with the oldest swimmers, such as Tuggle, going first and the youngest swimmers going last.

All 16 lanes are open during workouts, but only one swimmer swims in each lane.

“It was good to be able to back in the water at Paul Nelson,” said Tuggle.

“While Paul Nelson Pool was closed, I was doing almost all my workouts on land. I swam at the YMCA and at the (Santa Maria Country Club) a couple of weeks before Paul Nelson Pool re-opened.”

Before then, “It had been all land workouts for me,” after the pools began closing, said Tuggle.

Tuggle said Ashmore had his swimmers on a light load when they returned to the water. Since then, “We’ve been getting up to more yardage,” said Tuggle. “I think I’m doing pretty good. I’m feeling better than I thought I’d feel.”

Upon resuming training, “You have to take it easy when you start, or you’ll get injured.“ Tuggle said she will transfer to St. Joseph for her junior year. “I’ll probably swim for the high school so I can (compete at the state meet).”

As for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, Tuggle said she and Ashmore will have the same game plan they did for the 2020 Trials as far as which events Tuggle will swim.

“We’ll figure it out when we get there,” she said.

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Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000. BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona. BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.

Related to this story

  • Updated

SMJUHSD joins most area high schools who already have return-to-play dates in place. St. Joseph High School resumed athletic activities on Aug. 24. Lompoc Unified, with Cabrillo and Lompoc, is planning to return on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Santa Ynez Valley Union High is scheduled to return on Monday, Sept. 14. The Warriors, Saints and Panthers will follow on Sept. 21.

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