The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009
It’s been Sammie Hamilton’s dream for as long as she can remember, and next week for the first time she’ll compete with a Team USA swim cap on. Hamilton is part of the strong USA contingent competing among more than 10,000 athletes in Jerusalem this month as part of the Maccabiah Games, colloquially known as the Jewish Olympics. The Maccabiah Games brings together the best Jewish athletes from all over the world to represent their countries.
From July 17-20th, Hamilton will be swimming in the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 events as well as the 200 and 400 individual medleys, and on the USA relays as well. If that’s not enough aquatic action for the rising Wilson junior, she’s also competing in the open water competition on July 24th. While Hamilton has competed on the national stage as a youth swimmer many times over the last decade, and she’s already begun re-writing the Moore League record book as a Bruin, she and her family admitted that making the national team to head to Israel was a different set of emotions.
“It’s definitely the next progression for her,” said her mother, Elle Alexander. “She took a picture of the cap with her name and USA and she texted it–I had a moment when I saw it. To see the cap with her name on it–I may have shed a little tear over that. I got a little verklempt.”
“When we got our USA caps with our names on them I just stared at it,” said Hamilton. “I know my goals and I know where I’m going–this is a step to where I can be if I keep working really hard.”
‘Working really hard’ feels like an understatement from Hamilton, who has been putting in long hours for several years with the dream of making the Olympics one day. A typical school day for her involves a 4:30 a.m. wakeup to be in the pool in Fountain Valley at 5 a.m., where she trains with an elite national group of youth swimmers. She trains from 5-7 a.m. and then has to dash to school, where she’s in class until the afternoon. After that it’s back to Fountain Valley for 4-6 p.m. pool training, with weights and dry land training for an hour or two after.
That’s a 5 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. schedule, no easy task for a young athlete. Hamilton says she does as much homework as she can during the school day, so that she doesn’t have to do it after she gets home from swim practice. The way she stays focused during that hectic schedule is by thinking about moments like seeing that swim cap. She’s not an athlete who shies away from talking about her goals, and she said she thinks about making the Olympics on a daily basis.
“Every time I’m in the water doing a hard set, or my coach is yelling at me, everything I’m thinking about is this is my goal and that’s what I’m going for, and it’s not going to happen if I don’t finish this set,” said Hamilton. “If I don’t work, if I don’t lift weights when I’m tired–that’s the whole motivation.”
Hamilton has been swimming with a club team since she was three years old, and also played softball through middle school. The sport has taken her to a lot of places, including the record books. An elite youth swimmer for several years, her arrival at Wilson came with a lot of excitement–this Spring she helped the Bruins snap a five-year Poly league championship streak.
For all the success she’s had at the youth level, getting to compete with the national team in Israel has been special for a number of reasons. It’s also brought some new experiences, like traveling abroad without her parents. Hamilton arrived in Israel a few weeks ago and has been staying and training with the team, awaiting her parents’ arrival for the competition schedule.
“We were so excited for her when she got the team announcement and then it kind of hit, OMG the team travels by themselves,” said Alexander with a laugh. “Team USA doesn’t travel with their mom and dad, that would be weird. But she’s independent and self-reliant and we knew she’d be able to handle herself.”
The team of 12 girls and 12 boys has given Hamilton another unique experience.
“Meeting other swimmers that are Jewish is kind of crazy,” she said. “Knowing all these kids have the same kind of club/high school schedule that I do. I haven’t known anyone like that and now I have 23 other kids.”
That experience is part of what drew Hamilton to want to compete in the Maccabiah Games, which she saw ads for at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach. It’s been a journey from that moment to next week, when Hamilton will don the red, white, and blue to represent Team USA among 80 other countries competing.
With her work ethic and talent, there’s no doubt that journey is just beginning.