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Small swimmer makes big splash // 9-year-old Brooke Bennett wins 3 gold medals in state Junior Olympics

Published Jul. 6, 2006

When Brooke Bennett was just 1 month old, she became active in the water. By age 5, she started swimming competitively. Now at age 9, Brooke won three gold and two silver medals in the Florida Junior Olympics swimming meet in Jacksonville two weeks ago.

Brooke is a member of the Brandon Swim and Tennis Club (BSTC) Blue Wave team. The team placed ninth in a field of 36 state-wide teams.

Brooke, in the 10-and-under age group, captured golds in the 100 and 200-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley. She won silvers in the 100-yard individual medley and 100-yard butterfly.

Although she has won many ribbons and events in four years of competition, she didn't win her first Junior Olympics gold medals until she reached the grand old age of 8.

She won those medals last year in the 400-meter freestyle and the 500-yard freestyle, again in the age 10-and-under category of the state Junior Olympics. She will compete in the same category again next year.

Brooke recently joined the BSTC team after her parents learned the club had a heated pool and that Peter Banks was becoming the full-time coach. Banks was the assistant coach for Ireland's national team during the 1988 Olympics.

Prior to September of last year, Brooke swam with the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa.

"Brooke's talent is very exceptional, but it is also very basic which is good for her," Banks said. "That leaves her plenty of room to improve with lots of hard work.

"She is an exceptionally hard worker for her age and is self-motivated. She wants to do it herself and get better."

Brooke trains two hours a day, six days a week. And according to her mother, Rachel Bennett, she never complains, but actually looks forward to training with her teammates.

"I enjoy training everyday," Brooke said. "I like being with my team because they are my friends. I have more friends on my team than I do at school."

Brooke's parents have been big supporters and provided constant encouragement.

So has Mrs. Bennett's father, James Lane.

"My grandpa got me started in swimming and comes to most of my meets," Brooke said.

"My dad put in a pool about the time she was born and she has been in the water since she was around a month old," Mrs. Bennett said. "We didn't get her any of the baby swimming lessons. She was in the water so much she just learned to swim.

"When she was four my dad said she was so good we should get her some lessons and let her compete, which we did."

Because of her size (4 feet 6{, 64 pounds), Banks said Brooke is unable to compete as well in the sprints. However, he said she does exceptionally well in the distance events.

"It's easier for me to train for the distance events," Brooke said. "In the 50-yard (race) everybody gets out in front of me with long arms."

Mrs. Bennett described Brooke as being like a little wind-up toy when she competes in distance events.

"She gets a fast start then gets faster as the race progresses," Mrs. Bennett said. "Most of the kids seem to slow down late, but she either keeps the same speed or gets faster."

Brooke is nationally ranked in four events. She is one of the top 16 athletes in her age category in the United States in those events according to records kept by the United States Swimming Association.

Those events are 200-yard individual medley (2 minutes, 28 seconds), 200-yard freestyle (2:12), 100-yard butterfly (1:07) and 100-meter butterfly (1:18).

Her favorite stroke is the butterfly and her least favorite is the breast. She has a unique way of combining her likes and dislikes for a strong individual medley.

"I get out ahead on the backstroke and fly, then cruise on the breaststroke and freestyle," she said.

Although none of the other BSTC Blue Wave members won gold medals in Jacksonville, their combined efforts placed them ninth in a field of 36.

In addition to Brooke, the team consisted of Kristen Biada, Jennifer Gardner, Carrianne Vaughn, Elizabeth Barger, Erin Johnson, Michelle Varona, Jennifer Williams, John Reich and Sean Porter.

The 11-12 girls relay team consisted of Elizabeth, Erin, Michelle, plus Jennifer Williams. They won silver medals in the 200- and 400-yard individual medley relays and the 400-yard freestyle relay. The team won the bronze medal in the 200-yard freestyle relay. Elizabeth also won the bronze in the 11-12 50-yard backstroke.

The 10-and-under girls relay team consisted of Brooke, Kristen, Carrianne and Jennifer Gardner. They won the bronze in the 200-yard medley.

Doe Tournament: Invitations have gone out to 128 Bay area women to compete in the 20th annual Doe Tournament April 5-6 at the Buckhorn Springs Golf and Country Club in Valrico.

The tournament will be a two-day format. Prize money will exceed $10,000. Included in the prize money will be an all expense paid 10-day vacation for two to Hawaii for the first player to card a hole-in-one on the 12th hole.

For additional information contact Joey Shingledecker at 689-7697.

Benefit run scheduled: Brandon area runners are invited to participate in the Sunrise Safari '90 benefit run Saturday, May 5.

The 5K and 2-mile fun run/walk are scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. in Tampa's Busch Gardens.

Nearly 2,000 runners are expected to start at Adventure Island then run through Timbuktu, the Congo, Stanleyville and Bird Gardens in the African theme park.

Trophies will be awarded in each of 12 age categories, and T-shirts and passes will be distributed.

Snacks, fresh fruit and beverages will be provided along with music and prizes.

The registration fees are $10 in advance and $12 at the race site.

All proceeds benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

For more information contact Tom Denham at 873-3633 or the U.S. Home Mortgage Corp. at 221-8353.

If you have news about Brandon area sports and athletic events, teams or players, we would like to know about them.

Mail your information to Terry Jones, St. Petersburg Times sports, Brandon edition, 723 W. Lumsden Road., Brandon, Fla. 33511. Or call 264-3394.