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Swimmer, coach compete in high-level events: Craig’s Wes Mank travels to Oregon, while Chris Purdy jumps across the pond to South Korea

By Cathy Bolling
Island Post Staff Writer

Craig Waverunners Swim Team member Wes Mank and his coach, Chris Purdy, are both competing in high-level events in August.

Mank, 12, who recently broke four state swim records, is competing in the Western Zones Age Group Championships in Gresham, Oregon, while Purdy is at the FINA World Masters Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

Mank broke shorts course meter records for male 11-to-12-year-olds in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle, 50-meter backstroke and 100-meter backstroke, at the June 21-23 Midnight Sun Swim Meet in Fairbanks.

Mank beat these while swimming in a 25-meter pool, which is about seven feet longer than the 25-yard Craig pool. At Zones he’ll swim in a 50-meter, Olympic-size pool.

Mank joins former Waverunner Cassie Beseau, who still holds the state record for females 10-and-under 50-meter backstroke, set in 2001.

Mank is one of 24 Alaska swimmers to qualify for “Zones,” the highest level a swimmer of his age can compete at. It brings together an estimated 700 swimmers ages 14 and under from 14 western states, according to the Western Zone Swimming website.

He is competing in six events in his age group — the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and 200-meter freestyle, 50-meter backstroke, 100-meter backstroke and 200-meter backstroke. He competed at Zones in 2017 and has trained a lot more for this year’s meet.

He is “nerv-ited,” he said — a combination of nervous and excited.

“I’m nervous because it’s a really big meet but excited because I think I’ll do well this year,” he said.

Mank started swimming at age 4 and joined the Waverunners at age 6. He is the son of Ben Mank and former NCAA Division I swimmer Stacey Mank. His brother Eli is also a Waverunner.

Wes said his mom initially inspired him to swim. He spends about three hours a day in the pool.

Stacey Mank began swimming competitively at age six but said she was never as good as her son and never “loved” the sport as much as he does. He is entrenched in the world of competitive swimming and keeps track of individual swimmers — including his peers — on the regional, state, national and international levels.

Purdy says Mank has the potential to be a high-level national or international swimmer.

“He is very passionate and that passion is what is going to keep him going in the long run. ... He’s got the drive and he knows what he wants and for that age, that is very rare,” Purdy said.

This past March, Mank placed fifth in the 50-meter freestyle against the number one 11-year-old in the nation, at the Northwest Age Groups competition in Federal Way, Washington.

He enters the seventh grade in the fall and moves up to the next age group in April. When he’s not in the pool, he likes to run, and hang out with friends and family, he said.

Mank’s competition is Aug. 7-10. His family will be on hand to cheer him on, and his mom will also serve as one of two volunteer swim officials from Alaska.

International competitor

This is Purdy’s second time qualifying for the World Masters Championships, but his first time attending. He qualified two years ago to compete in Budapest, Hungary, but instead opted to take the job that includes coaching the Waverunners and the Craig High School Swim Team, plus lifeguarding at the Craig Aquatic Center.

He qualified during the Southeast Champions meet in Juneau in April, a U.S. Masters- sanctioned meet. Some of his swimmers also attended and Purdy raced alongside other Southeast youth swim club members with times closest to his.

The World Championships run Aug. 5-18 and his events begin Aug. 12. He arrives Aug. 5 to get used to the time change and climate, and train in the 50-meter pool. He estimates more than 900 swimmers could be attending. The events should be carried on FINAtv and the Olympic channel, he said.

The “Masters” category includes anyone age 18 and up, however 25 is the minimum age for the World Championships, he said. He is in the 25-29 age group.

He qualified for the same five events for Budapest: 50-meter breaststroke, 100-meter breaststroke, 200-meter breaststroke, the 200-meter individual medley and 400-meter individual medley events. He is aiming to break three Alaska state records in the breaststroke, his strongest stroke. Even Mank said he expects his coach to break some state records.

It’s been a while since Purdy has been competitive. He likes to jump in the pool during practice to show his swimmers technique and drills, and will occasionally race in a time trial.

Over the summer, he puts in 1- 1/2 hours of weights and 1- 1/2-3 hours in the pool, daily.

Under his direction, the Waverunners have grown from about 25 to 46 swimmers on the roster, with an 80% attendance rate, he said.

“We’ve got a very positive group right now, and it’s good.”

He has great support from the team’s parent board and the community in general, he said.

Purdy helps swimmers focus on technique, mental toughness and goal-setting and is very alert to the signs of burnout and injury. It is the coach’s responsibility to keep the sport fun and enjoyable and help swimmers keep that passion, he said.

“You have to juggle staying competitive and still allow the kids to be kids. ...We are trying not to push too hard, and to give them the option of being here and being competitive without taking the joy away from the sport.”

A coach needs to be aware of what their swimmer is going through at all times.

“Every single day I say ‘hi’ to every single swimmer and talk to them. If they have problems, I know about it. That allows me to coach to the swimmer.”

He and assistant coach Jen Creighton talk to swimmers about long-term, short-term and daily goals of all kinds.

“We want them to be aware (of what they are working toward) and constantly processing and not just going through the motions,” he said.

This is Purdy’s first time to travel internationally. He already plans to attend the 2021 World Masters in Japan. It’s a good excuse to travel, stay in shape, compete, and set an example for his swimmers, he said.