Butterflies are beautiful creatures, renowned for their variety of coloration and the way they flutter through the air.
One of the few places mankind chooses to imitate butterflies is in the swimming pool, though rarely are the arm motions applied quite as gracefully as wing movements.
Yet swimmers keep on trying to tackle the 100-yard race, some quite successfully, and coaches keep forcing swimmers into giving the event a try. Some enter by choice, some under duress.
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By consensus, the butterfly is one of the most difficult strokes to master. The freestyle is what people do when they first learn to swim. The backstroke is unusual because it is the only event that starts with the swimmer in the pool instead of diving in response to a start signal. The breaststroke rivals the butterfly as a collection of demanding moving parts.
“I love butterfly,” said Seymour senior Eduardo Zarate. “I think I just love it because it’s hard. It’s a lot of technique.”
Zarate said he became enamored with the butterfly watching the all-time greatest American swimmer Michael Phelps on TV in the 2016 Olympics, just one of the events Phelps excelled at and in which he won gold medals over the years.
Zarate is one of the most enthusiastic Owls swimmers in the event. Freshman Pedro Cerino has just begun his high school career and twice won the butterfly in his first meets with times under 1 minute.
“That’s not my specialty,” said Cerino, who said he wants to be known as an all-around good swimmer, not as one with a narrow focus.
Just last week, Cerino won the fly in a home meet against Jeffersonville. On the girls side, Maren McClure is an outstanding butterfly racer for Seymour (she won last week, too), but she is passionate about the event.
“The fly takes a lot of endurance,” McClure said. “It’s never fun to have to do it in practice. I’m used to it. I work on technique a lot.”
What may come naturally to a butterfly through its wings, takes unending practice for people with their arms and shoulders. McClure said many of her conversations with coach Dave Boggs are about how to improve technique.
Boggs said he is always on the prowl for someone to emerge from the pack on the team to take over the butterfly and the other so-called “off” strokes of breaststroke and backstroke.
The sum parts of a team in a meet stem from how the entrants are deployed to take best advantage of their strengths. Each competitor may have a special focus, whether it is freestyle sprints, longer distance sprints or those other strokes.
However, at least once a season, and sometimes more often, Boggs will ask swimmers to race in events that highlight other strokes. He watches carefully and might spot what he thinks is potential in a swimmer who doesn’t even sense it in himself or herself.
“That’s why we swim all the events,” Boggs said. “We can find a surprise here and there every year. We always stress technique. It’s like all sports.”
Senior August Hunt is pretty much a backstroke aficionado but was thrust into the butterfly at the girls sectional last year.
“Butterfly is really challenging,” Hunt said. “It’s rewarding after you get out (of the pool).”
One wild card butterfly racer for the boys — in the evolutionary larva stage, so to speak — is sophomore Grant Smith. Boggs checked out his long arms and wingspan and thought “He might be the guy.”
Smith was thrown into the butterfly in the Jeffersonville meet, and indeed, his swim was notable for its wide wingspan. The results were nothing special, but he came in with a limited history in the fly.
“I hadn’t really practiced it until yesterday,” he said. “Coach said I should do it because of how long my arms are.”
There definitely will be more butterfly in Smith’s future even if his heart does not seem to be in it yet. He sees himself more as a breaststroker, another stroke low on the popularity list. He is optimistic about how things will turn out in the fly, though.
“It will get better through the season,” Smith said.
Perhaps in the end, Smith will become as proficient at the fly as Muhammad Ali, who was able to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee in the boxing ring.