Local 6-year-old gets her kicks competing in swim meets

Published 12:36 am Sunday, January 13, 2008

NATCHEZ — Saying that Mallory Claire Dickey took to swimming like a fish to water might be a cliché, but it is also true.

The six-year-old began swimming on the Natchez Swim Team just this summer and already begun competing in swim meets with enough success to be ranked in the top 20 in Mississippi for the 8 and under division in two different events.

Mallory Claire has competed in three events since the summer and has a fourth coming up next weekend in Laurel.

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She is currently ranked 19th in the state in the 25 meter backstroke and 20th in the 50 meter backstroke. She is one of only two 6-year-olds to be ranked in the top 20 in any swimming event.

Making it even more difficult is the fact that before her first meet, she had never swam in a 25 meter pool, having to use the 18-meter long pool at the Natchez Senior Citizen’s Center for practice.

However, according to Mallory Claire, it was no big deal.

“It wasn’t hard,” she said of her first meet. “I was a little nervous but when I was done I thought ‘That wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.’”

Apparently not, as she took third place in her first ever event.

While the Natchez Swim Team holds practices twice during the week, they do not compete in meets as a team.

So that means Mallory Claire competes in meets as an individual, or, as part of “Team Mallory,” as her mom Leigh says.

“We make it a big family deal,” Leigh said. “Me, her dad (Trey Dickey), both sets of grandparents, her brother, friends, cousins and even her baby sitter came to the meet in Jackson recently. It’s just a real fun thing. Everyone pulls for each other’s kids and teams.”

Mallory Claire’s great success in the swim meets comes as some surprise to her instructor, Natchez Swim Team coach Tammy Whittington.

“She took the the water like it was natural for her,” Whittington said. “She’s the most serious about swimming 6-year-old I’ve seen in a long time.”

Perhaps her success shouldn’t come as such a big surprise since she comes from a family of swimmers.

Her grandmother was a Junior Olympian swimmer and her parents were both lifeguards.

But the most important thing about Mallory Claire’s swimming success is the amount of enjoyment she takes from it.

“It’s really fun and I like it a lot,” she said. “I don’t know how I got so fast. I just practice a lot and I love it.”

And as long as she’s enjoying it, her parents have no problem driving her from swim meet to swim meet.

“We don’t want to burn her out,” Leigh Dickey said. “We try to gently nudge her instead of push her and let her be the guide of what she wants and what she doesn’t want to do.”

But if she keeps it up, she could become something special, her coach says.

“She certainly has the talent,” Whittington said. “As long as she stays interested in it.”

“We tried gymnastics, ballet and soccer and she did OK,” Leigh said. “But when she got to swimming, she found her niche.”