Most Olympic champion swimmers start early — Missy Franklin was 5, Michael Phelps was 7 and Mark Spitz was 6 when they began competing in the water.
Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest junior Marta Ciesla was a good bit older — she was six months shy of her 12th birthday when she started swimming competitively.
Ciesla, a native of Coral Springs, has made up for lost time quickly — just as quickly as she swims.
Earlier this month, Ciesla, who turns 17 in October, won gold at the USA Junior National Championships in San Antonio, Texas, breaking Franklin’s 18-and-under record in the 50 freestyle.
“I wish everyone could feel what I felt standing at the top of the podium with the gold medal around my neck,” Ciesla said by text from Poland, where she is visiting family. “My teammates crying made me cry, too.”
Ciesla, whose record time was 25.07, said she wasn’t aware she had set the mark until she heard the announcement.
Pine Crest coach Jay Fitzgerald has watched Ciesla win three state titles in the past two years — the 50 free as a freshman and the 50 and 100 free last year.
“You have to be a very explosive athlete,” Fitzgerald said when asked what it takes to be great at Ciesla’s events. “You have to have a great burst of power to explode dynamically, which she can do, and you have to have great concentration because if you make one mistake, the race is over.”
Fitzgerald said that every swim coach in the nation — especially those who run top-20 NCAA programs — is aware of Ciesla.
What many of those coaches surely know by now is that Ciesla comes from an athletic family. Her brother, Jakub, is a 6-6, 215-pound outside hitter who is preparing to start his junior year of volleyball at Cal State Northridge, a Division I program. He was third on the team in kills last year.
Their father, Rafal, competed for the Polish national team in track and field, finishing seventh at the finals of the 110-meter hurdles at the 1991 European Championships in Genoa, Italy.
Marta started out in track, too — she was a sprinter and hurdler like her father — but she tore her quadriceps muscle while competing, and a friend suggested she try swimming.
Ciesla, a powerful athlete at 6-1 1/2 and 155 pounds, is the first swimmer in her family, but she believes that racing and sprinting are in her blood.
Her heart, however, is on the West Coast, which is where she would prefer to go to college. She wants to study physical therapy and said it’s possible she could be a coach one day.
In the meantime, she is focused on getting better and competing at the highest level possible.
“I have so much confidence in myself,” she said. “But I’m never one to be satisfied with my swims. I always tell myself that I could have gone faster — that’s how I am. I joked with my dad: ‘Why couldn’t I have gone a little faster so I could break 25 [seconds at junior nationals].’ Now I’m striving for a 24[-second timing].”
Aug. 26: Regular season meets begin
Sept. 5: Gulliver Invitational
Sept. 19: Jacksonville Bolles Invitational
Oct. 17: Woodson Invitational
Oct. 19-24: Districts (Class 1A-2A)
Oct. 26-31: Districts (Class 3A-4A)
Oct. 26-31: Regionals (Class 1A-2A)
Nov. 2-7: Regionals (Class 3A-4A)
Nov. 6-7: State championships at Sailfish Splashpark Aquatic Athletics Center in Stuart (Classes 1A-2A)
Nov. 13-14: State championships at Sailfish Splashpark Aquatic Athletics Center in Stuart (Classes 3A-4A)
DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS
Boys - Class 4A: Sarasota Riverview; 3A: St. Johns Creekside; 2A: Plantation American Heritage; 1A: Jacksonville Bolles.
Girls - Class 4A: Tarpon Springs East Lake; 3A: Tallahassee Chiles; 2A: Gulliver; 1A: Jacksonville Bolles.
TOP RETURNING BOYS’ SWIMMERS
Julien Pinon, American Heritage, Sr.
Raphael Marcoux, Fort Lauderdale, Sr.
Logan Downey, South Plantation, Jr.
Zach Allen, Cardinal Gibbons, Jr.
Jonathan Farah, American Heritage, Sr.
Austin Fields, Pine Crest, Sr.
Patrick Groters, University School, So.
Philippe Marcoux, Fort Lauderdale, Jr.
Nicholas Medina, American Heritage, Sr.
Nicolas Pacitti, American Heritage, Jr.
TOP RETURNING GIRLS’ SWIMMERS
Marta Ciesla, Pine Crest, Jr.
Jessica Nava, Westminster Academy, So.
Karlee Price, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.
Carolyn Ehrlich, Pompano Beach, Jr.
Brooke Bernstein, Pine Crest, Jr.
Jamie Flores, Pine Crest, Jr.
Marissa Brannen, Pine Crest, So.
Katherine Cooper, American Heritage, So.
BOYS’ SEASON OUTLOOKS
AMERICAN HERITAGE (Coach Nobutaka Tan, 15th year). Last year: 10-0 (State champions). Top swimmers: Jonathan Farah, Sr.; Julien Pinon, Sr.; Nicolas Medina, Sr.; Nicolas Pacitti, Jr.; Carlos Rodriguez, Jr.; Sebastian Vargas, Jr.; CJ Kopecki, So.
CALVARY CHRISTIAN (Coach Paige Moortgat, 1st year). Top swimmers: Hank Contich, Sr.; Christian Carlson, So.; Seb Wright, Sr.; Kegan Leary, Sr.
CHAMINADE-MADONNA (Coach Marc Gallet, 6th year). Last year: 3-7. Top swimmers: Cristian Tartala, Fr.; James Gallet, Fr.; Tristen Nader, So.; Daniel Rodriguez, Jr.
MONARCH (Coach Tara Glassover, 8th year). Last year: 8-3. Top swimmers: Quinn Roth, Jr.; Santiago Ospina, Sr.; Chris Uzzo, Sr.; Kyle Oliver, So.
NSU UNIVERSITY SCHOOL (Coach Katie Byrnes, 3rd year at US, 11th overall). Last year: 7-2. Top swimmers: Patrick Groters, So.; Max Asnis, Jr.; Sam Asnis, Sr.
PINE CREST (Coach Jay Fitzgerald, 21st year, 138-25). Last year: 8-7. Top swimmers: Anton Generalov, Ryan Graff, Julian Munoz, Christian Soderberg, Austin Fields, Hunter Fields, Dane Gailtis, Lyle Macaluso, Matthew Petreski.
SOUTH PLANTATION (Coach Ben Diaz, 2nd year, 8-2). Last year: 8-2. Top swimmers: Cameron Lindsey, Jr.; Devon Goebel, Jr.; Jazz Riquer, Sr.; Brian Gomez, Sr.; Tristan Ashworth, Jr.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (Coach Marty Grady, 10th year at STA, 25th overall, 202-54-1). Last year: 10-0-1. Top swimmers: Padraic Cassidy, Jr.; Devin Nugent, Jr.; Kearn Kurbanali, Sr.; Clement Bowe, Sr.; Juan Zapata, Fr.; Diego Avellaneda, So.
WESTMINSTER ACADEMY (Coach Sam Freas, 7th year, 103-26). Last year: 8-4. Top swimmers: Chase Perry, So.; Blake Shaw, 7th.
GIRLS’ SEASON OUTLOOKS
AMERICAN HERITAGE (Coach Nobutaka Tan, 15th year). Last year: 4-6. Top swimmers: Audrey Mason, Sr.; Katherine Cooper, So.; Jade Grabow, Jr.; Thea Mckenna, Fr.; Molly Weidner, Fr.; Chloe Grabow, Fr.; Julie Mason, Fr.
CALVARY CHRISTIAN (Coach Paige Moortgat, 1st year). Top swimmers: Rachel Contich, Fr.; Jillian Contich, Jr.
CHAMINADE-MADONNA (Coach Marc Gallet, 5th year). Last year: 3-7. Top swimmers: Cristina Basulto, Fr.; Crystal Bierkins, Fr.; Camile Luna, Sr.
MONARCH (Coach Tara Glassover). Last year: 6-6. Top swimmers: Luisa Suzuki, Jr.; Gabriella Montecchiari, Sr.; Stephanie Dobbins, Sr.
NSU UNIVERSITY SCHOOL (Coach Katie Byrnes, 3rd year at US, 11th overall). Last year: 5-4. Top swimmers: Allison Kopas, Jr.; Maia Goldstein, 7th.
PINE CREST (Coach Jay Fitzgerald, 21st year, 145-16). Last year: 13-1 (State runner-up). Top swimmers: Marta Ciesla Brooke Bernstein, Jamie Flores, Daniela Gomez, Anna Montgomery, Danila Munoz, Crystal Navellier, Molly See, Ali Watson, Sabrina Gornisiewicz, Juliette Pozzuoli, Ishani Singh, Shiraz Shiff, Marissa Brannen, Sandra Meszaros, Hannah Virgin.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (Coach Jimmy Parmenter, 20th year, 247-4). Last year: 12-0. Top swimmers: Sara Asseraf, Quinn Connor, Karlee Price, Vanessa Communale, Natalya Wozab, Samantha Stinemire.
SOUTH PLANTATION (Coach Ben Diaz, 2nd year, 7-3). Last year: 7-3. Top swimmers: Kyrsten Chen, So.; Nikole Lesmes, So.; Isabella Mino, Sr.; Megan Damon, Jr.; Danielle Rodriguez, Sr.
WESTMINSTER ACADEMY (Coach Sam Freas, 7th year, 103-26). Last year: 11-1. Top swimmers: Jessica Nava, So.; Johanna Holloway, So.; Elizabeth Zubero, Sr.