Like the rest of the natural world, the ecosystem of a swim meet revolves around the water.

More than 350 children and their families from across the inland Northwest gathered Friday at the Pendleton Aquatic Center, the pool teeming with youth competing in the breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle as a part of the 2017 Inland Empire Long Course Championship.

Kids in swimsuits walked to and fro as parents and coaches shouted words of encouragement to the young competitors in the main pool. A smaller pool provided a space for practice laps.

In the grassy area surrounding the pool, participants and their families lounged under canopies and camping tents, biding their time between events. Further out still, vendors sold food, screen-printed t-shirts and swimsuits.

This is a typical swim meet championship in an atypical location.

Fred Robinson, the meet director and the president of the Pendleton Swim Association, said this is the first time Pendleton has hosted the Inland Empire championship.

Although Pendleton hosts swim meets every year, it took four years to secure the winning Inland Empire bid for the Round-Up City.

Teams from across Oregon, Washington and Idaho converged on Pendleton for the championship, with the event winners qualifying for the sectional competition.

Teams from as close as Walla Walla, La Grande and Tri-Cities went up against swimmers that traveled as far as Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Moses Lake, Wash.

Tony Nelson coaches the 29-person strong Pendleton Swim Association team and spent the day with a variety of duties, ranging from critiquing his swimmers performances to making sure they were staying hydrated on another bright summer day.

Sixteen-year-old swimmer Landry Huth was competing in several events and has spent the past five years as a member of the Pendleton swim club.

Although she’s unsure if she wants to keep swimming competitively after high school, she plans to keep using the skills she was taught in the association once she’s graduated.

“You can do it anytime,” she said.

Nelson echoed Huth’s sentiments, calling it a “lifelong sport” that both promotes individual achievement and team work, and helps keep you healthy and in shape.

Nelson, who is a lieutenant for the Pendleton Police Department in his day job, said Friday’s poolside scene was characteristic of the family atmosphere most events take on.

“It definitely becomes a tent city,” he said.

Mike Kitsler was one of seven family members who rolled into Pendleton from Spokane to support his two children who were competing.

Although Pendleton lies on the outer edge of Inland Empire’s radius, Kitsler said he likes Pendleton’s restaurants and amenities.

“I don’t like to pump my own gas though,” he said.

While Pendleton Swim Association members may have worked for years to host a championship, their work isn’t over.

Time is running out on the Blue Mountain Community College pool, which has more maintenance issues than the college is willing to pay for but is also the only indoor facility the swim association is able to use year-round.

Robinson, the swim association president, said he’s currently working with Mayor John Turner to figure out a proposal to build a cover over the aquatic center.

In addition to giving young swimmers the option of swimming throughout the year, Robinson said it would open up more competition options when Pendleton hosts meets.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

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