STUART — Rasmus Skjaerpe flicked off his fur-lined slippers and shed his long, black warmup coat. When he took the starting block for the 400-yard freestyle relay, the Tampa Prep senior scanned the crowd for his mother, Unni — as he does before every race — and gave her a thumbs up.
The pre-event routine was the same for Skjaerpe, who competed in his fifth Class A state championship swim meet Friday at Sailfish Splashpark Aquatic Athletics Center.
But this time, it wasn't just another start for the Terrapins. It was his last.
In the final meet of his high school career, Skjaerpe was one of just four swimmers to become a state titlist in multiple individual events. Skjaerpe won gold medals in the 200 individual medley (1:48.64) and the 100 backstroke (48.59). Both relays (200 medley, 400 free) on which he competed finished fifth.
"After my 100 back, it kind of hit me that I only had one more event left in high school," he said. "After my 100 free, I kind of just threw my goggles, and I was done."
Skjaerpe's big night fueled Tampa Prep to a fifth-place overall finish on the boys side, which coach Jason Bowes said he thinks is the highest ever for the Terrapins.
Clearwater Central Catholic's Matthew Hirschberger (500 free), and Shorecrest's John Farese (100 backstroke, 100 free) and Joshua Chen (100 breast) also took spots on the podium to lead the Chargers and Marauders to sixth- and ninth-place finishes, respectively. CCC's boys' 200 free relay took third place, while the Shorecrest boys' 200 medley relay took second.
For the girls, the Terrapins had the best finish of Tampa Bay area teams, coming in 12th due in large part to a pair of top-eight performances from Savannah Savitt (100 breast, 100 IM).
There was a lot going on at a meet that brought 161 swimmers from all over the state to one pool. But when Skjaerpe was in the water, his finishes drew attention.
Skjaerpe, or "Moose," as his teammates call him, won the 200 IM by more than three seconds. In the 100 back, he finished more than a second faster than second-place Farese.
A titlist in the 200 free last year, Skjaerpe made it his goal to leave his final state championship meet with not just one gold medal, but two. The moment he met Bowes, his coach of six years, after his victory in the backstroke, they shared the same thought.
"He came up after his race to me," Bowes said, "and we said at the same time, 'two for two.' "
The awards presentation for the 400 free relay, Skjaerpe's final event, was going on behind him at the podium, but he paid it no mind. Instead, the Arizona commit posed for pictures with Bowes, his double hardware hanging from his neck and the flag of Norway, where Skjaerpe began swimming as an 8-year-old, draped around him.
Unni Skjaerpe admitted that seeing her son's final thumbs up as a Terrapin made her emotional. Still, she's sure it's not the last signal she's seen from him.
"Even if he makes the Olympics sometime, he will do that, even there," she said, laughing.
Like so many he swam against Friday, Skjaerpe still has years of competitive swimming ahead of him at the next level. Skjaerpe's future may be bright, but as Unni Skjaerpe watched him soak in the last of his high school glory, she could only think about his present.
"Today was like the victory of all," she said.
3A-2: Wiregrass, Mitchell win individual events
The North Suncoast crowned three individual champions at the Class 3A, Region 2 meet at Rowdy Gaines Pool in Winter Haven on Friday.
Wiregrass Ranch junior Athena Cimino (24.54) won the girls 50 free and was third in the 100 free (53.95). Fellow Bull Maddy Conway also placed first in the 100 back (1:00.67), and the sophomore was the runnerup in the 100 fly (1:00.12).
For the boys, Mitchell sophomore Kevin Smith rounded out the local champions with his victory in the 100 back (56.56). He was also fourth in the 100 fly.
Other notable top-three finishes: Wiregrass' Matt Menendez (second in 200 free; third in 100 fly), Mitchell's Taylor Anderson (third, 50 free), Wiregrass girls 400 free relay (third) and boys 200 medley relay (third).
Kelly Parsons can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_kellyparsons.