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Two Harbors swimmer qualifies for state YMCA tournament

Travis Elling (front) swims the 50 breaststroke at a meet this winter. Elling qualified for the YMCA state meet Sunday in Minneapolis in the 50 breaststroke, the 50 and 100 freestyle and the 400 relay team. (Photo courtesy of Mike Elling)1 / 3
Travis Elling gives someone a high five after an event last summer. Elling swims and with the Duluth YMCA Northerns swim team and qualified for the state meet Sunday in Minneapolis in four events. (Photo courtesy of Mike Elling)2 / 3
Two Harbors swimmer Travis Elling smiles from the starting block at a meet this winter with the Duluth YMCA Northerns. Elling qualified for the state YMCA meet in four events. (Photo courtesy of Mike Elling)3 / 3

When Two Harbors swimmer Travis Elling climbed the podium at the YMCA section swim meet in Grand Rapids last month, the 10-year-old's first season as a competitive swimmer had not only produced a ticket to the state meet on Sunday in Minneapolis, it was also a triumph over fear and adversity.

Travis qualified for the state meet in the 50 yard and 100 yard freestyle, the 50 yard breaststroke and the 400 yard freestyle relay at the section meet in January, setting personal bests in both the individual freestyle events. Travis danced around the pool and yelled "I'm going to state!" It's the kind of delight that just brings a smile to any faces within earshot.

To watch him swim now, it's easy to forget Travis struggled mightily as a beginner and was not initially "like duck in water." His parents, Mike and Jo Lynn Elling, first took their son to an infant swim class at the Duluth YMCA and then enrolled him in the Lake Superior School District Community Education swim lessons at Two Harbors High School. Mike said his son was afraid to put his head under water or even get his face wet. The first summer was difficult for Travis, he had to repeat the level one swim class he took and was still having problems jumping in from the side of the pool and even still reluctant to get his face wet. Then it happened, but just what "it" is remains a bit of a mystery to his parents.

His dad had missed a day at swim lessons and when he was back at swim lessons, Mike heard those words that fills parents with dread.

"Hey dad, watch this," Travis said.

With that Travis dove into the pool and swam to the bottom of the pool.

"I looked at my wife and said 'when did this happen' and she said 'I don't know,'" Mike said. "It was a crazy thing and from there he just took off."

Travis progressed rapidly through the swim program offered by LSSD and toward the end he had to repeat level seven. This time, however, it was for a much different reason. Travis repeated the final step of the community education swim lessons just for the opportunity to get back in the pool and practice a little more.

After that, Mike asked his son if he would be interested in swimming competitively and received a very enthusiastic reply from Travis. Mike did the same thing most parents in this day and age do when starting to research new activities for their kids, he googled it. The first result was the Duluth YMCA Northerns competitive swim team and the rest, so far, is history.

Travis has enjoyed his time at Duluth and all the new people he has met at the Duluth YMCA.

Outside the pool, Travis and his family usually get season passes to Lutsen or Spirit Mountain and, always the daredevil, Travis loves terrifying his parents with what he can do on a pair of skis. He also spends his summer playing with friends, riding ATVs and exploring the woods. He's developed an affinity for soccer, most recently playing with Two Harbors Soccer Club's U10 team and will play next season as part of the club's U11 travel team.

Last summer, Travis was also able to meet former Olympian's Matt McLean and Ian Crocker and said he was inspired by the fact they started swimming competitively around the age of 10 and they, too, struggled early on as they learned to swim.

His dad said one of their hopes is to bring back boys soccer by the time Travis makes his way from the Minnehaha Elementary School to Two Harbors High School and, hopefully, establish a boys swim program. The boys soccer program was cancelled at Two Harbors a few years ago due to lack of players interested, though the youth program has been growing in Lake County, and boys swimming has not been a varsity sport in many years. There is quite a bit of work to do, between now and then, but Mike Elling said he is always open to discussions with Two Harbors activities director Scott Ross about the prospects.

For now, though, Travis is happy swimming at the YMCA with the coaches and friends he has made there. He is proud of accomplishing the goal he set out for at the beginning of the season, advancing to state and is starting to focus on his next goal, advancing to the YMCA's Midwest Regional. Travis also said he was thankful to his parents for pushing him to go to swim practice, even on those days he wasn't too excited about it and understands how it helped him accomplish his goal this season.

He certainly has the right attitude to get the regional competition.

"I'm going to go to state and I'm going to win," he said.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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