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Guckavan ready for state swimming, even though MAHS doesn’t have team

By Jason Maddux

Posted 3/11/20

Middletown Area High School doesn’t have a varsity swim team, but one of its student-athletes will compete this week at the PIAA swimming and diving championships.

Gavin Guckavan, a …

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Guckavan ready for state swimming, even though MAHS doesn’t have team


Middletown Area High School doesn’t have a varsity swim team, but one of its student-athletes will compete this week at the PIAA swimming and diving championships.

Gavin Guckavan, a sophomore, will take part Friday and Saturday in the Boys 2A competition at Bucknell University in Lewisburg. His events are the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard backstroke.

Of the 32 swimmers taking part in the 200 individual medley at states, only seven had better qualifying times that Guckavan’s 1:58.44. The individual medley is a combination of the four main swimming styles —butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.

He practices with his club swim team at the West Shore Y, and the head coach of the West Shore Y is the head coach at Cumberland Valley, so Guckavan can take part in PIAA events through Cumberland Valley although his times count only for him and not for the school. That’s how he got his qualifying times for districts.

He started swimming at about age 8 at Middletown Swim Club. His siblings got him interested.

“I was pretty good from the start, just for summer swimming, but then winter swimming is harder competition, and that’s what I liked,” he said.

Now, he swims five or six days a week, for at least 15 hours a week.

“We are a water family. We spend much of the summer at the lake or beach,” said his mother, Barbra. “Surprisingly, Gavin was the most cautious of my kids around water. He learned to swim the latest of all of them” — but now he’s had the most success.

His siblings — Ian, Mason and Kiera — all swam competitively, mostly to get in shape or stay in shape for another sport, said Barbra. One summer about six years ago, all four swam together for the Middletown Dolphins.

Gavin went to districts last year but didn’t qualify for states. As a freshman, he was selected as all Mid-Penn Conference in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke.

This year, his goal at states for the 200 individual medley is to be in the A final, meaning to make the top 8. In the 100 backstroke, it is to qualify for the B final. His qualifying time in the backstroke was 54:85.

“For the 200 IM, I wasn’t expecting the time that I got at districts. It’s pretty close to a YMCA national cut, so that’s what I’m going for,” he said.

The national cut time for the YMCA is 1:57.79. If he bests that, he qualifies for nationals in North Carolina.

“In the water, I like setting a goal and working towards it, and I like the feeling of finishing the race and looking at the board and knowing all the work paid off,” he said. “I’m pretty competitive. I like to win. That’s kind of what pushes me.”

Some of that push to win came from his family, Barbra said.

“His brother Mason was one of his assistant coaches for a few seasons. Gavin reminded me recently of the time that he was getting ready to swim and Mason asked him what his goal was and he responded with, ‘I would be OK with a second place finish.’ Mason proceeded to beat him up right on the pool deck,” she said. “We are a very competitive family, and settling for second is not an option. Gavin learned that day that it doesn’t matter what place you come in as long as you leave everything in the pool. Settling is never an option.”

After some personal losses recently, including the death of Mason, swimming has “offered Gavin a safe place where he knows what to expect and where the pool deck feels normal and natural,” Barbra said. “His dedication and determination are most inspiring.”

Mason, a 2016 Middletown Area High School graduate, was serving as a specialist in the U.S. Army. He died in October 2018 while stationed at Fort Wainwright in Alaska.

Gavin swims six days a week during the summer and winter seasons and five to six days a week during the offseason. He also plays varsity soccer.

All that swimming practice takes place on the West Shore — at the Y and at Messiah College. That means a lot of driving.

“I am a single mom, and so as soon as each of his older siblings got their licenses they would help with driving. I never even had to ask them,” Barbra said. “They just knew that he needed to get to practice and they willingly pitched in to help. Kiera is the only one still home, so when she is not practicing for field hockey or doing homework she is driving Gavin to swimming. I also have wonderful friends who will help when I’m in a pinch.”

Barbra said Gavin recognizes that there are a lot of  fast swimmers out there, so his focus is on what he can do to better his time.

“When he focuses on technique and reaching small goals, it has typically produced a big win in the end,” she said.

Watching him coach the younger kids with confidence and patience makes Barbra proud, she said. There is also a huge difference in the way Gavin responds to a disappointing swim now than when he was younger.

“People say that it’s what you do after the loss that can make or break you, and this is so true for swimming,” she said.

As for his classmates, he says some don’t understand how he can swim at states even though the school doesn’t have a team.

“When I tell them I swim for the high school, they don’t really get it. I have to explain that it’s just me on the team, but I’m not swimming against other teams. I am just swimming with them,” he said.

And now he is ready to take on the best in the state.

“I get pretty nervous before races, but I use the nervous energy and I typically perform well when I know I have to,” he said.

As for the future: “I’d love to swim in college if I can find one that has my major,” he said.