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All Stars: D.C. Aquatics Club

Swimmers from all backgrounds find camaraderie in local group

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District of Columbia Aquatics Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Tommy Scibilia and Sara Hewitt have balanced career, swimming and competition in the D.C. Aquatics Club. (Photo of Scibilia by Tom Park; photo of Hewitt courtesy of Hewitt)

Two former college club swimmers, one gay and one straight, from the District of Columbia Aquatics Club are featured this week in the ongoing All Star series in the Washington Blade. The LGBT sports community in D.C. has grown to more than 7,000 athletes and has drawn in both gay and straight competitors.

At the urging of his parents, Tommy Scibilia played everything from baseball to volleyball to soccer while he was growing up in Fairax, Va. None of them stuck until he started swimming year around in the eighth grade. He swam all four years in high school and when he committed to attend the University of Virginia, he had a decision to make.

“I chose the club swimming route which is part competitive and part social,” Scibilia says. “I’m glad that I did that because a lot of the varsity swimmers burn out. I still appreciate the sport and want to continue to pursue it.”

Though it may not be as intense as NCAA swimming, college club swimming is filled with athletes looking to challenge themselves. Scibilia attended up to six meets per school year at different schools as well as the Collegiate Club Swimming Championships at Georgia Tech.

After graduating with a master’s degree in urban and environmental planning, Scibilia moved back to the area in 2016 and works as a city planner in Fairfax. One of his new roommates told him about the LGBT-based D.C. Aquatics and he joined a few months later.

Scibilia attended his first meet with his new teammates in Miami in May at the International Gay & Lesbian World Championships. He says the experience could have been intimidating but his teammates and past swimming races helped him feel comfortable.

“It comes back pretty fast when you are up on the blocks again. You don’t lose the spirit of it,” Scibilia says. “I’m a little shy and I wasn’t sure what to expect being new and younger, but everyone was welcoming and really funny.”

Coming up for Scibilia is the D.C. Aquatics-hosted meet in October and plans to attend his first Gay Games in Paris next year. He says the swim meets are a good way to get to know his teammates outside of the regular practice routine.

“I like the age range on D.C. Aquatics. It’s cool to know that people have been swimming on this team for decades,” Scibilia says. “I have a lot to look forward to in the future.”

Sara Hewitt was born in D.C. and grew up in Glen Echo, Md. She swam in the Montgomery County Swim League from ages 5-18 along with swimming on her high school team for four years. While she was attending University of Maryland, she joined the college club team that was formed in her senior year.

After graduation, she was swimming on her own in 2010 at the Tacoma Aquatic Center and spotted D.C. Aquatics across the pool having a butterfly workout.

“I saw them again the next week and went up and asked if I could join,” Hewitt says. “I looked at their website to see if they accepted straight people and it wasn’t a prerequisite to be gay. I was excited about getting a real practice with a team.”

After a couple months of training, Hewitt attended her first meet and during her 100-yard individual medley race, her new teammates stepped forward to cheer her on.

“This is a welcoming group of people and there is so much camaraderie,” Hewitt says. “Safe spaces in sports are important and it’s incredible to be a part of their safe space.”

Hewitt, who works as an engineer, attended her first International Gay & Lesbian World Championships in Honolulu in 2011 and has since been to the championships in Reykjavik, Seattle, Stockholm and Miami.

She also marches every year with her teammates in the Capital Pride parade and next year will mark her first participation in the Gay Games in Paris. The environment continues to feel welcome to her and she shares an experience from the Championships in Miami this past May.

“I lost my goggles in my first race, the 800-meter freestyle, and when I finished the Miami-based timer said, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you kept swimming.’ The timer in my second race was the boyfriend of the timer in the first race. Both guys ended up cheering for me in all the rest of my races. I am meeting encouraging people that I will see again at future competitions. What a great environment for a swim meet.”

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Olympic champion Tom Daley ‘furious’ about bans on trans athletes

“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not ok”

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Tom Daley (Screenshot via Channel 4 UK)

Olympic diving champion Tom Daley said he is “furious” about FINA, the world swimming body, banning some transgender athletes from women’s swimming, diving, and other competitions. 

“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not OK,” Daley said to iNews at a press conference. “It’s something I feel really strongly about. Giving trans people the chance to share their side.”

Earlier this month, FINA released the new policy on eligibility, banning athletes who have experienced male puberty from women’s competitions.

FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said the new policy intended to protect athletes’ right to compete but also ensure competition fairness.

FINA intends to create an open category for athletes whose birth sex is different from their gender identity.

“This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.” Al-Musallam said.

The new policy was condemned by the Human Rights Campaign, which said that requiring athletes to transition before age 12 was unrealistic and unlikely. States such as Alabama regulate young people’s access to age-appropriate gender-affirming care.

“This sudden and discriminatory decision is a blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years without issue,” said Joni Madison, HRC’s Interim President, “This policy is an example of swimming organizations caving to the avalanche of ill-informed, prejudiced attacks targeted at one particular transgender swimmer.”

The new policy will impact the career of trans swimmer Lia Thomas, the first trans woman to win a NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championship, and may prevent her from participating and competing in the female category.

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Sports

DC Aquatics Club swimmers reflect on world title win

Team took 125 gold medals en route to breaking 72 DCAC records

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The District of Columbia Aquatics Club sent 42 swimmers to the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics world championships in Palm Springs, Calif. (Photo courtesy DCAC)

The District of Columbia Aquatics Club sent 42 swimmers to the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) world championships in Palm Springs, Calif., in April on a mission to capture their first world title since 2013.

It was a long road back to international competition for the DCAC swimmers after the disruption of training and travel brought on by the worldwide pandemic.

When the team returned from IGLA in Melbourne, Australia in March of 2020, their training pools were closed, and all competitions were canceled.

By May they had established a training site in the South River in Annapolis where they swam until November of that year. Eventually, pools began to reopen, and the team was faced with battling for training time in COVID-restricted pools.

Following the postponement of the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong, the IGLA community scrambled to put together a competition in Palm Springs that would be hosted in tandem by West Hollywood Aquatics and the Long Beach Grunions. 

DCAC’s swimmers in Palm Springs consisted of a mix of veterans and rookies ranging in age from 22 to 76 years old. Each swimmer was eligible to enter five individual events and three relay events.

With 67 teams in attendance, DCAC jumped out to an early lead on day one in the large team category with West Hollywood Aquatics and San Francisco Tsunami in close pursuit. 

Despite the disqualifications of two of their winning relays for early takeoffs, DCAC held on to their lead over the remaining three days to claim their first world title in nine years.

Three DCAC swimmers, Grant Casey, Carmen Robb and Jerry Frentsos, won gold in all five of their individual events. In total, the team won 125 gold, 66 silver and 35 bronze medals en route to breaking 72 DCAC team records.

Addison Winger was a first time IGLA swimmer and hadn’t competed in 12 years. He had heard the tales from past IGLAs and wanted to join in on the fun.

“It was a great experience to compete for DCAC at an international competition. I had never been in a championship meet before where you go through the process of tapering, shaving, and suiting up in tech gear,” says Winger. “The relays were amazing, and I enjoyed taking advice and feedback from our coaches to incorporate into future races. It was also great spending quality team with my teammates outside of the pool.”

Olivia Kisker had competed with DCAC at IGLA Melbourne in 2020 and was looking forward to traveling with her team again.

“Even though the days were long at the pool, we still had time for Joshua Tree, the gondolas and all that Palm Springs has to offer,” Kisker says. “I love traveling and doing it with your teammates provides a setting for bonding and getting to know people better. I also enjoyed competing against my teammate Sarah. It’s like a friendship and a rivalry.”

Craig Franz restarted his post-COVID competitive swimming at IGLA Palm Springs and went on to a training camp and open water race in Hawaii this past month.

“The whole thing about this team is relationships and sharing swimming as a common denominator. The swim competitions legitimize building relationships and supporting each other in healthy ways,” say Franz. “Palm Springs felt like a more relaxed setting, and we needed this meet to rebuild the team. It provided a nutritional base for what we are about – swimming and friendships.”

Sarah Padrutt had not competed since 2019 and all the talk about past IGLAs prompted her to attend for the first time.

“I had so much fun, and it was cool having people cheering and being supported by teammates,” Padrutt says. “It was also a nice wakeup call, a reminder of how much I like competing. I like the pressure of racing and being on relays with my team. It was a very positive experience.”

Charles Cockrell has been a Masters swimmer for decades and is the chair of the Legislation Committee for United States Masters Swimming. He came out in 2019 and these championships marked his first time competing at IGLA.

“I wanted to compete at a swim meet that was a combination of the LGBTQ community and the sport of swimming. It was a fun, accepting and engaging environment,” says Cockrell. “The takeaway was that everyone was enjoying themselves and it was nice to be gathered together in a queer space. There was an atmosphere of camaraderie, and it was great being attached to a big team like DCAC.”

Coming up next for DCAC is the United States Masters Swimming Nationals in Richmond in August. Next year, the team will travel to London for the 2023 IGLA world championships to be held in the London Olympic Pool.

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Politics

Caitlyn Jenner celebrates FINA ban on Trans swimmers on Twitter

“[…] what’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period,” Jenner tweeted

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Screenshot/YouTube Fox News

Former Olympian and one-time California Republican gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner enraged Trans activists Monday after she tweeted her approval of the FINA vote Sunday that essentially bans Trans women from participating and competing as collegiate swimmers.

“It worked! I took a lot of heat – but what’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period,” Jenner tweeted Sunday after the international athletic organization announced its vote to ban trans athletes.

The Swimming’s world governing body voted to restrict transgender athletes from elite women’s competitions. The final vote tally of the representatives was 71.5% approval for the new policy which requires transgender athletes show that “they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later.”

“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,” FINA’s president, Husain Al-Musallam, said in a statement.

The organisation is maintaining that it was necessary to use sex and sex-linked traits to determine eligibility criteria because of the “performance gap” that appears between males and females during puberty.

Jenner’s appearances on the Fox News Network over the past six months have been unrelenting attacks on Trans athletes, especially University of Pennsylvania Women’s Team swimmer Lia Thomas. Jenner also appeared on the network to defend her attacks on Trans athletes.

“We must protect women’s sports. We cannot bow down to the radical left wing woke world and the radical politically charged agenda of identity politics,” Jenner tweeted. In another tweet she said;

“Thank you @seanhannity and @HeyTammyBruce for having a conversation grounded in common sense. All we want to do is protect women’s and girls sports! It’s that simple. And calling out the libelous, defamatory lies of @PinkNews and @emilychudy@benjamincohen

Jenner has been asked about her position on the multiple pieces of anti-Trans youth sports legislation across the United States. She responded that she saw it as a question of fairness saying that she opposed biological boys who are Trans- competing in girls’ sports in school.

“It just isn’t fair,” Jenner said adding, “and we have to protect girls’ sports in our school.”

In April the Fox network hired Jenner as on-air contributor role with her first appearance on Hannity.

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