George starting strong in 2021

Rock Ridge freshman Gunnar George has been named the Mesabi Tribune Prep Athlete of the Week.

EVELETH — Gunnar George is off to a great start to the 2021 swimming season as his offseason training and hard work are paying off.

The Rock Ridge freshman has already won numerous events, including the 100 butterfly, which is his main event.

His motivation this coronavirus-impacted year?

“Just being with COVID, I want to work a lot at home and end my freshman year with a bang and do good,’’ George said at the pool last week.

Advice from his older sister Carly George (a 2020 Eveleth-Gilbert graduate) has been a definite help, as well. She gives her 15-year-old brother specific tips after every race, which has been a big factor, he said.

When Gunnar and his sister are not talking about the swim events, he is “watching her old film videos’’ that his mom has on her computer.

Head coach Dan Boelk believes having an older, more experienced swimmer in the family has paid dividends. “I think any time you have a support system like that, they can feed off each other and learn from each other.’’

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Gunnar George of rural Gilbert has been a swimmer since joining in fourth grade. “She told me to try swimming and try it out for a year and I did and I liked it. So I stuck with it.’’

Why did he enjoy competing in the pool so much?

“The team was fun. I especially love this team. It’s like a second family. The program is great,’’ George said.

The joining of the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia swim teams last season (now Rock Ridge) was a good turn of events, he added.

“We came together really well. No one hated each other. We all liked each other right away. We all bonded. The season went great last year (with a section title) and it’s going good so far this year.’’

Winning the section championship “was really special for a new team and a new school. It’s going to be great going onward.’’

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Personally, George finished the year strong at the 2020 State Meet as part of the 200 freestyle relay. George, an eighth-grader at the time helped his team take ninth place overall.

“That was a cool experience to make it to the second day,’’ he said.

This season, George hopes to drop a couple more seconds off his 100 butterfly time and make it to state. “I definitely can improve it.’’

What exactly is it going to take to cut that time?

“Underwaters. My turns. It’s going to come down to that,’’ said George, who is now spending most of his practice time working on exactly that because the time under water is vital.

“We call the fifth stroke your underwaters,’’ Boelk said. “Because you swim faster underwater than you do on top of the water.’’ An efficient turn on a short pool can lead to some nice gains, he said, for those that can take advantage of it,’’ he added.

Overall, George is a gifted swimmer that has “a feel for the water,’’ Boelk added. “He can swim almost every stroke. “I think you’re a more efficient swimmer if you can do all of the strokes and move around rather than just be stuck in one event or two events.’’

George has his sights set on medaling at state (a top eight finish), which Boelk believes he has a good shot at doing. “I’d like to see him medal more than once down there’’ because he has several more years to keep getting even faster.

“That’s a huge goal from anybody outside of the (Twin) Cities area. I think this year with the COVID, it puts the outstate swimmers on more of a level playing field because the Cities kids have more opportunities and more pools to get into.’’ The outstate swimmers don’t, he said, which means they have to cross train more. ”it’s going to be whoever did the most cross training will probably be some of the better swimmers at the state meet this year.’’

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Boelk and previous coach Perry Brown have both played a role in helping George improve.

Regarding Boelk, George said, “He has brought a lot. He’s really pushed us in practice. He’s really transformed my underwaters. He’s a great coach. He’s had a lot of advice for me. He’s helped a lot.’’

Brown has helped George develop as a swimmer since fourth grade. “He’s really helped my career,’’ he said of Brown, who is still his coach at a couple camps he goes to.

“He helps me with my stroke and tells me flat out what’s wrong with it,’’ George stated. “He’s a great coach. I like Perry.’’

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