If you’re at a Dalton Dolphins swim meet, don’t be shocked to hear the name Valdez repeated many times throughout the night.
Oli and Emilio Valdez, a brother-and-sister duo, are standouts for the summer swimming team, and Dolphins coaches Todd James and Charles Todd have nothing but praise for the hard-working siblings.
Oli, an eighth grader at Dalton Middle, is on the Cougars swim team and also swims for the Carpet Capital Aquatics Club’s Makos, a year-round team.
“Oli is very focused,” James said. “She works hard at whatever she does. If you tell her to do something, she will do it. She’s quiet, but intense. You can see it in her eyes.”
Said Todd, “Oli is a very strong, high level swimmer for both the Dolphins and the Makos.”
James said that Emilio, a fourth grader at Eton Elementary, is very competitive.
“He really pushes himself, especially in races,” James said. “He’s got the endurance to push through. He’s got it deep down. And he is always a nice and happy guy.”
Said Todd, “He tore it up in the 8-and-under division last year, and he is still one of our stronger swimmers.”
The siblings also have strong support from the home front — Oli and Emilio’s parents were the ones who got their children into the sport.
Thirteen-year-old Oli has been swimming for five years and Emilio, 9, has been swimming for four. Their mother, Lidia, thought it would be good for her children mentally and physically, and would also help keep them safe.
“I am very proud of them,” Lidia said through a translator. “They try very hard with their goals and they succeed.”
Said Todd, “They are a fine family and they help any way they can, from fundraising to manual labor. They bring a lot to the team.”
James described the Valdez family as “very supportive and encouraging.”
“They are always at the pool deck,” he said. “Some parents just drop their kids off and come back, but they always hang around. They ask how to help their children get better and what they can do to help them excel.”
Oli’s favorite event, the 50-meter butterfly, is the one she excels at the most.
“It makes me feel good,” she said.
Emilio likes the surprises and challenges that swim meets pose.
“You race with others,” he said, “and you don’t know how fast they are.”
Being as talented as the Valdez children doesn’t come without work. Practice takes up much of their time.
“I have practice everyday after school for two hours,” Oli said.
But the countless hours of practice have shown their benefits. Oli qualified for state last year and Emilio qualified this year. Oli called the experience at the state competition her best memory of the sport.
“It was my first time qualifying and I was with all my friends,” Oli said.
Emilio, who qualified for state two weeks ago at Chattanooga’s Baylor School, will make his first trip to the competition in July. He will be competing in four events — the 100- and 200-meter freestyle, and the 50- and 100-meter backstroke.
James said not only do the siblings swim in every event in their divisions during meets, they swim correctly.
“They focus on little details, like putting their hand in the water correctly,” he said. “Getting better at the small picture helps them get better with the bigger picture.”
The Dalton Dolphins opened this summer’s Chattanooga Area Swim League Blue Division competition with a home meet Thursday at the Dalton Recreation Center, falling 372-356 to perennial champion Signal Mountain.
Ethan Pence’s 19-point effort led the Dolphins, who also got 18 points from Abby O’Ferrell.
Jacob Queen, Rebecca Davis and Taylor Dale all had 17 points, while Asher Pence and Oscar Chenard each chipped in 15. Nash Bingham, Reese Bingham, Alex Mashburn and Joana Rosales were 14-point contributors, Raul Valdez and Alex Wood each scored 13 and Jonathan Shaheen (12) and Alan Trejo (11) also made double-digit contributions.
The Dolphins compete again Monday, hosting Stuart Heights at 5:30 p.m.