Abby Wettack, a ninth-grader at Gate City Middle School, represents Gate City High School in the Virginia High School League’s swim meets — something no other student at Gate City has ever done.
Abby Wettack has been swimming competitively with the Barracuda Swim Club of Northeast Tennessee since she was 8 years old. “I took swim lessons when I was younger and I just fell in love with the sport,” Abby said.
Today, Abby is a ninth-grader at Gate City Middle School and, although still very active with her swim club, the 14-year-old is also representing Gate City High School in the Virginia High School League’s swim meets — something no other student at Gate City has ever done.
When Abby was just a toddler she received treatments for a cancerous tumor on her hip. These treatments, although destroying the cancer itself, weakened Abby's leg, making high-impact activities like basketball, soccer or track more difficult for her. Swimming, being a low-impact sport, was recommended as therapy to help strengthen Abby's muscles.
“Swimming was just a really good fit for Abby,” said Amy Wettack, Abby’s mom.
“With swimming, you don’t have that pounding like you would with other sports,” Abby’s dad, David Wettack, said. “And, unlike so many other sports, swimming is something Abby can do for the rest of her life. A lot of the parents whose kids she swims with in club, they used to swim when they were younger and they still come back and swim a lot. The longer Abby can stick with it, the better in shape she’ll be as she gets older.”
Abby’s been swimming ever since that first lesson and shows no signs of giving up the sport she loves. She’s even considering it as something she might continue in college.
“I will definitely continue it through my senior year of high school. But if I was offered a scholarship for college, I could see myself swimming at that level, too,” Abby said, adding that her favorite strokes are the butterfly and the freestyle.
Jorge Blasini is one of Barracuda’s coaches and has coached Abby since she was 8.
“In a word, she is awesome. She’s consistent and driven and just a joy to coach. Now that she’s representing her school, I think more opportunities will open up for her,” Blasini said.
There were some logistical issues to work out before Abby could represent her school in swim meets.
The Scott County School System had to pay a nominal fee of $35 to the VHSL and Abby needed a volunteer coach.
Fortunately, she had someone living right under the same roof with her who was ready and willing to step in and fill that coach’s position — her dad.
“David had to take a test and pass a VHSL coaching test on regulations on swimming and diving,” said Amy.
There is no pool in Gate City in which Abby can practice, but since she is a member of the Barracudas she will just continue her practices at the club’s Kingsport site at the Dobyns-Bennett High School pool.
The Wettacks hope that when the Kingsport Aquatic Center opens next spring, Abby, as well as other young swimmers in the area, will have another place to practice.
Abby says she would love to see some of her classmates at Gate City take an interest in swimming.
“All of my friends know how much swimming means to me. But most of them play basketball so it’s hard to talk them into joining me in the pool. I think there’s interest out there in swimming and the more we can get the word out throughout the school that I’m doing this and with my progress and the better I can do in the meets, maybe that will encourage others to want to do it,” she said.
Amy says at a recent swim meet at Bristol’s Virginia High School, Abby had an experience she’d never had before.
“Gate City’s JV girls basketball team and the eighth-grade girls and boys basketball teams were all playing there, too. They came and stood above the pool. When they realized Abby was swimming, they stayed and watched her and cheered her on. It was neat because a lot of them had never had a chance to see her swim before. It pepped her up a lot to have some people there that she knew,” Amy said.
In addition to Virginia High, Abby will compete against some Wise County schools, Norton City, Chilhowie High School and Patrick Henry High School in Glade Springs.
Gate City High School’s principal, Greg Ervin, is thrilled that Abby is representing her school in these VHSL meets.
“Abby’s just doing what she’s always done, but now she’s able to do it for the VHSL. We’re so proud of her and so proud to have her representing us,” Ervin said.
The Wettacks suggest any youth who are interested in swimming to contact the Barracuda Swim Club to learn how to get started in the sport.
For more information, visit the Barracuda’s website at http://www.barracudaswimclub.org/