Not short on talent
Poudre's Hunt, a dwarf, ranks among elite swimmers
By HAP FRY
HapFry@coloradoan.com

Sarah Hunt dives in the water and begins pumping her arms and kicking her legs in a furious manner - all while living the American dream.

Living the dream is often easier said than done, just not for Hunt, 15, who stands only 4-foot-5.

Hunt is a dwarf born with spondyloepimetaphyseal, a disability that hampers the growth of bones and results in short structure, but she has not allowed it to keep her from making a big splash in and out of the water.

A member of the Poudre High School girls swimming team, Hunt is one of the top Paralympic swimmers in the world.

Her times of 38.05 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle and 2:02.00 in the 100 breaststroke are the sixth fastest times in the world.

"It's pretty motivating to everybody else, just watching her work," Poudre coach Brent Moore said. "She just keeps her face in the water and just goes. Her work ethic is really awesome."

Swimming has taken Hunt to such locales as Indianapolis, Federal Way, Wash., Portland, Ore., and most recently Minneapolis where she competed in the U.S. Paralympic Open earlier this month.

In August she will be in San Antonio, Texas where she will try and earn a spot on the U.S. team that will compete next December in the 2006 World Paralympic Games in South Africa.

An even loftier goal for Hunt is to make the 2008 U.S. team that will compete in Bejing, China in the Paralympics. Getting the chance to swim against the best is something Hunt thinks about often.

"One reason I want to go to the Paralympics or the World Games is because everyone would be there," Hunt said. "At nationals there will be a few people ahead of me, but the competition is not quite as intense."

One of swimmers Hunt is trying to chase down resides right here in Fort Collins.

Erin Popovich, a Colorado State University junior, currently holds four world and seven American swimming records.

Popovich has competed in the 2004 Athens Paralympic games where she brought home seven gold medals and was named the 2005 American Sportswoman of the Year by the Women's Sports Foundation, beating out such "normal" female athletes as golfer Annika Sorenstam and Indy Car driver Danica Patrick.

"I always motivate myself by what Erin does," Hunt said. "I just really look up to her because she's accomplished so much. I would like to, maybe in five years, come close to her times."

Popovich isn't ready to

ride off into the sunset just yet, but she does see a lot of herself in Hunt.

"She definitely has that same will and drive that I do," Popovich said. "You can tell she's just always pushing herself to get better, but she's also a person that's very happy with where she is at in life."

As great as Hunt is in the water, her greatest accomplishments might come when she's out of it.

She is a 4.0 student, plays the clarinet in the Poudre band, sings in the school choir, plays the piano and insists she's as typical as any other high school sophomore even though her accomplishments tell a different story.

"She's really humble," said Maddie Gamble, a teammate of Hunt's teammates on the Poudre swim team. "I would be bragging if I were her because she has a lot to brag about. She's insanely accomplished. It's been great having her on the team."

Hunt began swimming with her mother, Karen Hunt, when she was eight months old, and last year joined the Poudre team as a freshman. Competing in mainstream competition has only made Hunt stronger and more tenacious in the water.

Unlike the Paralympic meets she competes in and often dominates, Hunt is rarely at the front of the pack, meaning she has to take on a different mentality when she races in the high school-sanctioned races.

"I think there's a little more motivation (Paralympic meets) because there's somebody that I can beat fairly or that can push me fairly," Hunt said. "I like it whenever I beat people in non-Paralympic meets, but I don't expect it. At non-Paralympic meets I just go for best time."

Hunt, though, has been able to beat her share of mainstream swimmers, which does not surprise Moore and probably should not surprise anyone else.

"She probably works harder than anybody and she doesn't like having things adjusted for her," Moore said. "She always holds her own and fights as hard as anyone out there."

 

Originally published December 26, 2005