Question: What do Logan, Utah; Santiago, Chile; and international sports competition have in common?
Answer: Sixteen-year-old Logan swimmer, Tori Geller.
In May of this year, Geller was chosen, along with nine other U. S. swimmers, to represent the U.S.A. in the youth category at the 2015 Pan American Maccabi Games in Santiago. These games take place in-between each Maccabiah, the “Jewish Olympics” held in Israel.
This December, Geller, one of six hundred U.S. athletes, will join over three thousand international competitors for eleven days in the Chilean capital. Pitted against other top-quality athletes in twenty-two sports ranging from basketball and karate to tennis and chess, all the competitors will have time not only for sightseeing, but particularly for community service, an integral part of the Maccabi Games and of the Maccabiah in Israel as well.
Geller has spent half her life in one or another of Logan’s swimming pools.
“I started swimming when I was eight. I think a friend suggested I try it. I did, and really liked it,” she says, “especially the breaststroke; it was my best, and now I do the IM [Individual Medley] too.”
“Best” is an understatement. In her first competition at eight, she was only two seconds off the state breaststroke record for her age group. Training under Barracuda coaches Jerry Hodgkinson and Dani Harding, Grizzly coach Matthew Butler, and Israeli coach Hanan Sterling, Geller has progressed from that eight-year- old who liked swimming, to Utah State Champion in the breaststroke, to swimming at the Israeli National meet, to being selected Rookie of the Year and voted Most Valuable Player.
Willie Mays once said “It isn’t hard to be good from time to time in sports. What’s tough is being good everyday.” And Geller is. It’s not only innate talent that drives her. A typical summer day for her means getting up at five a.m. to run repeats of the Old Main steps, followed by a dryland workout for strength, and only then moving on to team practice at the Sports Academy or the Aquatic Center for another hard session of dryland, core exercises, and swimming. In the afternoon it’s back to the pool for another one and a-half hours.
Just this year, high school coach Butler convinced Geller to try water polo.
“I wanted to try it, to do something different,” Geller says. “It was a way to refresh myself, so I wouldn’t get stale.”
When asked about her favorite moments in swimming, it was surprising to find out that it was neither the victories she’d won nor the records she’d set that she most remembered. Instead, her favorite times were those of individual challenge and team interaction.
“Every once in a while in practice, I do what feels like a perfect set. It feels so good. It’s not important to anyone else, but that’s one of my favorite moments. And the social things. You get to go to meets with your friends and sometimes stay overnight, and just have fun. So I get the individual times when it’s just me against myself, and the social team times too.”
Geller finds a way to keep swimming no matter what. At age twelve, she traveled with her family to spend a year in Israel. At the Leo Baeck School in Haifa she asked about swimming. The coach tested her, and when he found she was too advanced for his team, suggested she meet Hanan Sterling, coach of the Maccabi Haifa team, which included an Olympian in his twenties and other members, all three to six years older than Geller.
“When he tested me, he made me swim real slow. He was more interested in technique than speed. I got on the team, and it was tough. I could keep up with the older girls though and it was cool to have an Olympian in the next lane.”
Tori Geller is too modest even to think it about herself, but it’s easy to imagine a future international meet in which some young swimmer says, ‘It was tough, but it was really cool to have Tori Geller in the lane next to me.”
The community is raising funds to help send Geller to the Games. Anyone interested in contributing can find her Website at: http://support.maccabiusa.com/site/TR/Games/MaccabiTeamRaiser?px=1009901&pg=personal&fr_id=1040