A year ago, David LaFlamme was swimming for tiny Big Valley Christian, a school that had only a couple of swimmers on its team.
Even then, his talent shone through, as the sophomore won two Sac-Joaquin Section junior varsity titles.
This year, he was a junior at Beyer High. He moved because he wanted to take more advanced academic courses, and the Patriots swim team reaped the benefits.
While splitting time between his club team, based in Ripon, and his high school team, LaFlamme swam his way to two varsity championships in the Sac-Joaquin Section Championships. He won in his specialty, the 100 butterfly, as well as the 200 freestyle. For his efforts, LaFlamme has been named The Bee's 2008 boys swimmer of the year.
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For LaFlamme, swimming had always been an individual sport.
He started swimming when he was 4, and a few years after that joined up with Ervin Zador and the Ripon Swim Team. There, competitions were against the clock more than each other. It was the same at Big Valley.
"I wouldn't be the swimmer that I am without (Zador)," LaFlamme said. "With the high school team involvement, this year was a little different. But it was a lot of fun as well."
The pinnacle of his season came at Tokay High School in Lodi, the site of the section championships.
There, he swam to two victories in front of a massive crowd that filled nearly every open spot around the pool. They yelled during every race, bringing that urgency to the swimmers.
"It was just a very enjoyable meet," LaFlamme said. "I just loved that atmosphere. Everybody yelling for their teams; it brought a lot of emotion."
It helped LaFlamme set one major goal: breaking the 50-second barrier in the 100 butterfly. He won that race in 49.16.
"That was really the big time, going under 50," he said. "I just missed the section record, but I've got another year to try for that."
LaFlamme has little rest from the water. He's still training and swimming in Ripon.
"Two practices a day," LaFlamme said. "I do almost as much work on land as in the water -- both running and lifting weights. You need that extra edge, and I really think it's helping.
"I can still feel myself improving, every day."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.