One week removed from helping the Dickinson High girls swim and dive team collect eighth place at the North Dakota State Swimming and Diving Meet, sophomore Hailey Rathgeber was back in the pool looking for ways to get better.
She wasn't alone, though, as a pool filled with kids ranging from second-graders to high school seniors took in instruction from a pair of world-class athletes.
Canadian Olympian Kierra Smith and Team USA Paralympian Jessica Long were on hand giving advice and pointers during the Fitter and Faster Swim Tour that took place on Friday, Nov. 16, and Saturday, Nov. 17, from the West River Community Center.
"It's really awesome, just having them around and getting tips from them," Rathgeber said. "Even being a high schooler and having been in swimming for 11 years, it's just nice getting more tips so that you can always grow."
Originating in 2009, the Fitter and Faster program has conducted more than 1,000 clinics across North America with more than 50 Olympians and Paralympians, according to program's website. Previously holding a clinic in Fargo, Fitter and Faster made its first appearance on the west side of state last weekend.
According to Midgets head coach Jenna Wolf, who helped bring the event to Dickinson, the 48 slots for the clinic sold out almost immediately, bringing in kids as far away as Minot and Grand Forks. With the demand of the event and size of its participants, Fitter and Faster added a second instructor for the two-day camp.
"It's such a cool idea to get Olympians out and interacting with young swimmers like this," said Smith, who placed seventh in the 200-meter breaststroke for Team Canada during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. "It's beneficial to both the Olympian or Paralympian and the swimmer growing up. We've really mastered these skills and to be able to share them, it just makes sense."
Smith, a graduate from the University of Minnesota, won a gold medal in the 200 breaststroke at the 2015 Pan American Games. Long has competed in four Summer Paralympics over her illustrious international career, winning a total of 23 medals, including 13 gold medals. She is also a three-time ESPY award winner as "Best Female Athlete with a Disability."
"Especially since this is a sport that we love so much, to give back any feedback to the eager who could be the next Olympian or Paralympian, I think it's just a great way to give back to our sport," Long said. "Being involved in this sport I think is great, I think it teaches you to have discipline and gives you something to work towards."
The accomplished duo provided a series of lessons, jumping to into the pool to provide examples before allowing the kids a chance to work on it themselves. Afterward, the two swimmers took questions from the participants and some of their parents in the crowd, ranging from questions about their careers, their daily routines and their favorite foods.
Both Long and Smith answered that oatmeal is their go-to meal in the morning.
Rathgeber said she learned tips on how to perform better flip-turns while improving her underwaters by getting deeper in the water. Additionally, she plans on bending her elbows more to pull more water.
But beyond all of the advice she received inside of the pool, Rathgeber says Long and Smith's approach before entering the water was her biggest takeaway.
"They kept talking about being positive, having a positive attitude everywhere you go," Rathgeber said. "That really stuck with me."