‘I just try my best to swim the fastest’

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(Photo by ERIC PLUMMER) Payton Bokowy will wrap up her high school career this weekend as one of the most accomplished athletes ever from Sandpoint High School.

Bokowy ending stellar high school career at state

By ERIC PLUMMER

Sports editor

SANDPOINT — Next year at this time, Sandpoint senior Payton Bokowy will be getting coached by a former Olympic swimmer while racing next to current Olympians in the Pac 12 Conference.

But first things first, starting this weekend at the Idaho State Swim Championships in Boise, where Bokowy will be looking to add to her collection of four state titles by once again leaving the competition in her wake.

She’s already one of the best prep athletes to ever come out of Sandpoint, and with a legitimate chance to add as many as four more titles, could cement her status as the fastest female high school swimmer in the state of Idaho.

When she takes to the starting blocks on Friday, it won’t be state titles or times she’s striving for, merely a fast swim.

“I’ve never been one to set goals,” she explains. “I just try my best to swim the fastest, and that gets me further.”

Bokowy won state titles as a freshman and sophomore in both the 50 and 100 free, sprinting past massive fields in a sport that doesn’t separate classifications.

Last year she was upset in a pair of close races, finishing third in a 50 free that saw a new state record set, and third in the 100 free by just .17 seconds, in a race won by a Borah High School exchange student.

This year she’s hoping to reclaim her 50 and 100 free titles, and also make a run at winning the 200 and 400 free relays with teammates Ellie McCray, Mikayla Schoening and Kate Bokowy. All four are winnable races, and any high places could go a long way to the girls team contending for its first ever state title.

“I’m excited to see what we can do as a team down there,” says Bokowy of the strongest Bulldog girls teams ever. “We have a lot more team speed, more competitive. It’s been fun. We all get along really well.”

Bokowy has been a fixture at the Sandpoint West Athletic Club pool since she was 3 years old, where she admits to kicking and punching popular youth coach Mike Brosnahan upon their first encounter.

Brosnahan has been coaching her ever since, from the SWAC Sharks to the Bulldogs to prestigious national swims, the two logging countless hours together around the pool. He was asked what springs to mind first when thinking about his phenom.

“Perfection. She likes to do everything the right way, always has. She enjoys feedback,” describes Brosnahan, who will miss his senior leader next year. “There’s going to be a huge hole to fill, and it’s going to take time.”

Bokowy started swimming competitively at the age of 7 years old, when it was clear she could more than hold her own against swimmers two and three years her senior.

“Mike came up and said she should do a swim meet,” recalls mom Jacinda Bokowy. “I didn’t even know they existed at that age.”

The Bokowys started attending meets at the regional level, and Payton continued to blossom in the pool, often dominating multiple events at meet after meet after meet.

While still in grade school, she couldn’t get enough competition and time in the pool. It’s why Jacinda chose the word dedication to describe her daughter.

“As a sixth grader, she insisted on practicing with the high school team,” says Jacinda. “She’s never been happy with the status quo, always wanted more.”

While the state titles are impressive, it’s a berth in the upcoming Junior Nationals in December that tops her swimming résumé to date.

With only the top 20 swimmers in the nation qualifying, the odds didn’t look good for Bokowy, who was seeded 72nd in a massive qualifying field of the fastest swimmers in the U.S.

She exceeded everyone’s expectations with one of the best swims of her life, finishing 18th and punching her ticket to the prestigious event.

“That was a wild swim, so fun to watch,” describes Brosnahan. “It still makes my hair stand up.”

The performances caught the attention of Washington State University, and former Olympic sprinter and head coach Tom Jager. Bokowy plans to sign a full ride scholarship soon, where she’ll be competing head to head against the likes of Stanford Olympian Simone Manuel next fall.

But right now she’s focused on the Idaho state meet, where she’ll compete on two relays with freshman sister Kate Bokowy, enjoying the one season the siblings had together for the Bulldogs. Kate anchors both relays, while Payton swims the third leg.

“It’s exciting. The first two (legs) will be even or a little behind, then she goes,” describes Kate of the relays. “It’s a fun experience, it’s nice to win. We all push each other to go faster.”

Payton figures she logs about 10 hours a week in a pool, accompanied by a few hours of dry-land training. She also carries a robust 4.32 GPA, earning scholastic All-American honors, awarded to only 555 girls in the country.

Bokowy admits Brosnahan has played a huge role in her success, and would love nothing more than to help earn him the program’s first ever team state title.

Dad Tom Bokowy has had a front row seat for much of the past few years, and admires the coach-athlete dynamic.

“There’s not another coach like Mike. You see a lot of coaches yelling at kids, but yelling is not his standard mode,” claims Tom. “He brings a love of swimming, a love of the competition. The kids get that love of swimming from Mike.”

For his part, Brosnahan sees it as a two-way street, with both pushing the other to learn and improve.

“She’s always keeping me on my toes. She has such dedication, she’s there all the time,” says Brosnahan. “It’s very easy to coach her. I go to a big meet and I’m never nervous. We bring a sense of calm to each other.”

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