Originally, James and Khadija Stewart just wanted to make sure their son, Jay, was going to be safe in the water.
“Every one of his buddies had a pool when he was 6 or 7,” James Stewart said. “We were just afraid that he’d crawl in and drown, so we got online and looked for lessons.”
Before long, Jay Stewart had gone from lessons to competing for a swim club in Bloomington. Now with the Franklin Regional Swim Team, he won all six of his events in the 10U age group at the state long course championships in late July, smashing state records in three events — the 50-meter butterfly and the 50 and 100 freestyle.
The 50 free record had stood since 1972, and the butterfly mark had held up since 1983.
“I expected to win them all except for breaststroke,” said Stewart, a fifth-grader at Binford-Rogers Elementary in Bloomington. “I was pretty surprised.”
Because he celebrated his 11th birthday just days later, Stewart couldn’t compete in the 10U division at the Central Zone Championships in Wisconsin. But Johnson County still was well represented in that age group.
Vincent Howe, a Center Grove swimmer who finished second to Stewart in the 50 freestyle at the state meet, chopped eight tenths of a second off of his state time to finish first at the zone meet.
“I was excited,” Howe said of the win. “I looked at the clock on my left, and in my mind I celebrated.”
“A lot of them get to that type of situation and they get kind of overwhelmed by the moment,” Howe’s former coach, Mark Madden, said. “But for him, he just loves to race. For that day, he got up on that block and he definitely owned the moment.”
Much like Stewart, Howe’s success in the pool came about almost by accident. His father, Eric, said that he was just trying to find an activity that Vincent would enjoy and stick with.
“He got in the pool for lessons and he just didn’t want to get out,” Eric said.
Howe qualified for six individual events in all at the zone meet, where he also placed third among 34 qualifiers in the 50 butterfly. Stewart actually made the zone cut for ages 11-12 in that event, finishing 23rd out of 42 qualifiers in the higher group.
Alex Jerden, who coaches Stewart at FRST, said he believes that getting a chance to compete against — and lose to — some older swimmers has made Stewart much hungrier and willing to work. He’s noticed a difference in the weeks since.
“The best thing about zones was he got to see the older boys, bigger boys, race against him, and he was just fascinated,” Jerden said. “’How do I do this?’
“He’s still just a boy who has a lot of things to learn, and the best part about him is he wants to learn those things.”
Both boys have lofty long-term goals — Howe said he hopes to compete in the Olympics someday — but they also seem aware that while they’ve excelled at such a young age, the success they’re enjoying now doesn’t guarantee them anything in the future.
At every step along the way, they’re going to have to earn everything they get.
“I try not to think that far ahead,” Stewart said of his long-term goals. “I try to focus on tomorrow and how hard I’m going to work.”