“I was born happy,” Etana Volpe exclaims as she bounces from the Hamilton Pool after swimming eight 25-yard sprints to complete a recent workout.
Her San Francisco Sailfish coach and fellow swimmers feed off the enthusiasm and energy of their 10-year-old teammate.
“It elevates everybody. She brings this light-hearted mood,” coach A.J. Wynkoop said. “People forget that they are working hard in this very intense sport.”
Volpe, however, is much more than just a cheerleader for her teammates.
“She’s a phenomenal little swimmer,” Wynkoop said. “Etana brings a really hard work ethic, and she takes constructive criticism very well. She’s been working really hard these past few months.”
Volpe is competing this weekend in the USA Swimming Zone 3 Winter Championships in Santa Rosa, where the San Francisco resident is swimming in the maximum six events, including the 100-yard individual medley. At last month’s qualifying meet, she finished sixth out of 57 swimmers in the IM, featuring 25-yard sprints in butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.
“Etana doesn’t have a weak stroke,” said Wynkoop, who has been working with Volpe for three years, initially at the Jewish Community Center and now at Hamilton.
Converting her A-level times to Junior Olympic times is the goal for this weekend. At the qualifying meet, Volpe was only one second away from reaching a Junior Olympic time in the 50-yard freestyle.
Volpe considers the pool “stress relief” after her day at school. The Grattan Elementary fifth-grader hops two buses to arrive at Hamilton, where she does homework prior to practice.
Before heading to her Miraloma Park home, she may take a few runs down the pool’s monster slide. After playing with Teddy, her “mangy mutt puppy” and dinner with her parents, she and dad Boris mix in some puzzle books to their study regimen of math, language arts and science.
Next year she’ll be “starting over” both in school — she and her folks are touring middle schools — and in the pool, where Volpe will be competing in the 11-12-year-old age group.
The S.F. Sailfish team has 11 current swimmers with room for more, and Volpe would love to attend meets with a full contingent of competitors.
In terms of her future, Volpe is undecided if she’d like to be a “junior Michael Phelps” or a popstar.
Considering her athletic talent, work ethic and Miley Cyrus-sized personality, it is reasonable to assume that anything is possible.
WHAT: Competitive swim team
FORMED: In May of 2010 by coach A.J. Wynkoop, a two-time NCAA All-American swimmer
HAMILTON POOL: 1900 Geary Ave. at Steiner Street
TRYOUTS-PRACTICE: Monday-Friday, 4-6 p.m.
INFO: (415) 292-2008 or www.sfsailfish.com