Trae Hayes has been swimming with the Elkin Wet Lightning since he was 5 years old.
He’s 18 now and these are his last few meets coming up as a member of the Wet Lightning.
He’ll be a college student in the fall, attending Wilkes Community College to pick up some credits before heading off to Liberty University or Pensacola Christian College to pursue a nursing degree.
“He’s a great kid,” Wet Lightning Coach Emily Morrison said. “He is very positive. He always does anything you need to do as far as helping out.
“Guiding little kids; getting everybody reined in; and cleaning up after practice.”
Morrison said no matter how Hayes is really feeling, he always has a good attitude. She said this is important when “the little ones” are looking up to the older swimmers.
“I feel like I influence the younger ones,” Hayes said. “I want to help them.”
“He’s just really grown into an outstanding young man,” Morrison said.
It’s been 13 years since the Hayes family — Trae, sisters Meredith, now 23, and Rachel, now 20 — joined the Wet Lightning at the suggestion of Ben and Helen Holmes. Hayes parents, Tommy and Valerie, thought it would be a good idea and the Hayes family has been involved ever since.
“I was just trying to keep up with everybody else,” Hayes said of being 5 and swimming for the first time. “I had no idea how to swim.”
Hayes had only been “on a float; dog-paddling around.”
Hayes, who is a home-schooler from Wilkesboro, said swimming in Elkin has been a “great opportunity for me to grow and to meet new people; making lifelong friends; meeting new people.
“I love everybody. It’s a great thing to do.
“It’s taught me a lot,” Hayes continued. “Made me grow in self-confidence. It’s just been a great opportunity.”
Hayes doesn’t consider himself one of the more competitive swimmers on the team. You’ll still see his name in the top three over and over in different events, but it is about the fun for Hayes.
“I don’t think anybody would have as much fun if it wasn’t for Oz,” Hayes said, referring to Wet Lightning Coach Clint Prim. “Emily Morrison is a great coach, too.
“If it wasn’t for those two people, I don’t think I would enjoy it as much.”
“I just try to get into a different frame of mind,” he said. “I got to do my best. But for me, it’s more fun. I’m not a very competitive kid.
“You do your best. You always remember to have fun and not take it so seriously.”
Next summer, Hayes will be too old for the Wet Lightning. He’ll be working or taking summer classes. His life will be different.
“That’s why I did it this year,” Hayes said. “It’s my last year. It’s really sad.”
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-835-1513 or Twitter @elkinareasports.