Whether it’s competing in the 500-yard or 1,000-yard freestyle, Claire Kehley is always primed to go the distance.
Kehley, a Lauralton Hall junior, emerged as one of the top distance swimmers in the state as a freshman in 2018 and now a junior, she continues to perform at an impressive pace.
She has mostly competed in the 200 and 500 freestyle races for Lauralton Hall, while also sparking the freestyle relays. For her club team, the Westport Weston Family YMCA Water Rat squad, she also tests her endurance in the 1,000-yard freestyle.
“I love the challenge and grind of distance,” Kehley said. “I love every time I get up on the block and race that I have a new challenge in front of me, whether it be to go a best time or race the girl next to me. It’s always a challenge. Having my teammates along the side of the pool and counting for me is the best too.”
During her sophomore season in 2019, Kehley finished third in the 200-yard freestyle at the CIAC State Open Championships at Yale University, registering a time of 1:53.93. Kehley, all All-State, All-SCC Team selection last fall, also placed fourth in the 500 freestyle at the State Open (5:06.20).
“Swimming at the Yale pool is one of my favorite places to race because of the arena-like spectator seating and getting on the podium at the end,” Kehley said. “Not to mention it is the final meet of the season and we train all season to end up on top and fight for that spot on the podium.”
At the CIAC Class S Championships last fall, Kehley captured the gold medal in the 200 freestyle (1:54.64) and 500 freestyle (5:10.06).
“The atmosphere is like no other,” Kehley said of competing in the class and State Open meets. “The parents cheering us on and my fellow teammates along the side of the pool screaming has always pushed me to try my hardest for my team.”
Kehley also made quite a splash her freshman season in 2018, winning the Class S title in the 200 freestyle (1:53.92) and 500 freestyle (5:03.74). She especially enjoys competing in the 500 freestyle race.
“During high school season the 500 freestyle is definitely my favorite event to race just because of the adrenaline that you experience from swimming your hardest for 20 laps,” she said. “When I swim for the Water Rats, the 1,000-yard freestyle is my favorite event since it is a little bit longer and my endurance can hold me for 40 laps. It is the perfect distance event — not too long like the 1,650, yet still longer than the 500.”
Kehley started swimming competitively when she joined the Lakewood Lightning summer team.
She has been a member of the Westport Weston Family YMCA Water Rats team for three years.
“After that summer, I joined the Trumbull Pisces and fell in love with it,” she said.
Over the years, Kehley has drawn inspiration from her coaches and teammates.
“I have always tried to follow in the footsteps of older swimmers, both on the Lauralton team and the Water Rats. They have always pushed me to try harder and set an example of leadership on the team. In addition, my coaches have always tried to challenge me and I admire them for their hard work and dedication.”
Lauralton Hall coach Paul Katz has seen the dedication and determination Kehley brings to the pool with her each day.
“Claire has a strong will,” said Katz, who is in his first season at the helm, after serving as an assistant coach on Fran Pfeiffer’s staff for six years. “She has great push-offs, she swims strongly at whatever distance events she swims and she knows when it’s time to pick it up.”
Indeed, competing for a tradition-rich team like Lauralton Hall, also serves as motivation to perform at the optimum level.
“I truly cherish being a part of the team,” Kehley said. “We collect some of the best swimmers in the region that want to work hard and be a part of a wonderful team. My former coach Fran Pfeiffer started this tradition over his 27-year career at Lauralton. His goal of excellence has always inspired the team. He was always a great storyteller and his tradition of leading a great team has not stopped since he retired. Coach Paul Katz is still continuing his legacy and is pushing us to be the utmost respected team in the SCC.”
Like most SCC teams, Lauralton Hall’s schedule includes virtual meets, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the team’s dual meets have been held virtually, with each team swimming and diving at their own pool, then comparing results.
“It definitely has been different than in a normal year,” Kehley said. “Not having parents there to cheer you on in the stands and no team next to you is different too. I still find ways to get myself motivated on the blocks before I race. Also, I’m lucky to have my own fast team to race again and the clock. There is no better training partner than the pace clock.”
Kehley is impressed with how the team has performed during its virtual meets.
“I think they have gone great, considering that we still find a way to get up and get going every time, despite not having an opponent in the lane next to you,” she said. “We have to treat it as if there is another girl in the lane next to you and there are parents in the stands, even though they are watching and cheering us on from home.”
In Lauralton Hall’s recent victory against SCC foe Amity, Kehley won both the 200 and 500 freestyle and anchored the team’s winning 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
“Claire is having a very solid season,” Katz said. “She is a pleasure to coach and she is very competitive.”
Though the season has a different look, Kehley has kept her aspirations high.
“My goals remain the same as in a normal year,” she said. “Since a virtual championship meet (SCC) was just announced, I still have the opportunity to achieve All-Conference and All-State recognition again. One of my main goals is to achieve the All-American standard. Coach Paul has continuously been trying to get me to achieve this time and I feel like despite the difficulties, this is the year I can do it.”
Kehley, who lists Precalculus, AP Chemistry and Biology as her favorite subjects, plans on swiming in college.
“One of my biggest dreams is to compete at the collegiate level,” Kehley said. “During the lockdown period, my life just wasn’t the same without swimming. I couldn’t imagine myself not swimming in college, since it has been a huge part of my life since I was 7.”