OCEANSIDE — The Junior Olympics does not even have a category for 8-year-old swimmers, regardless Jaeden Tran is among the best set to compete this July.
Eight-year-old Jaeden will compete in the Junior Olympics age 10 division. He has already time qualified for the 50-meter back stroke, 50-meter butterfly and 100-meter butterfly, and may qualify to compete in a few more races.
Jaeden said when he’s up on the starting block all he thinks about is the finish line.
“I want to make it to the finals,” Jaeden said.
His father, Dao Tran, said that at age 6 Jaeden told him he wanted to win as many medals as Michael Phelps.
Even to an encouraging father, Tran said this sounded like a big dream. At the time Jaeden barely put his face in the water.
Jaeden started swimming lessons just before he turned 6 to help with his respiratory problems.
“He was a premature baby, born nine weeks early,” Tran said. “He had respiratory issues until he was 5. The doctor said to try swimming to help develop his lungs.”
Jaeden did not warm up to the sport right away. Tran said Jaeden was known as “the screamer” at the pool where he took his first lessons because he would cry when he got near the water.
Things changed after Jaeden asked his dad if he could stay up and watch the Olympics. He saw Phelps, and set his own goal to be an award-winning swimmer.
Jaeden’s swimming took off from there. He made rapid improvements, and soon began training with a private coach.
“He is very competitive,” Tran said. “I took him to a swim meet to let him watch, and told him (to achieve his goal) he needed to learn how to float.
“His whole attitude changed. In six to eight months he was swimming. He got so good, so fast.”
The private swim coach saw something in Jaeden.
His father then enrolled Jaeden with Carlsbad’s North Coast Aquatics swim team to help him pursue competitive swimming and build sportsmanship.
Jaeden competed in the 25-meter butterfly in February, and finished in the top 16 against 9- and 10-year-olds. He clocked in at two seconds under the best time.
“He is very determined for a kid his age, and hungry,” Tran said.
North Coast Aquatics Coach Rob Mackle said Jaeden’s strong kick and determination sets him apart from fellow Junior Olympics hopefuls.
“He has a natural ability to work hard,” Mackle said. “He likes to race.”
Jaeden practices up to seven days a week with the team in demanding one-hour sessions.
“It’s part of his routine,” Tran said. “We do homework. During the 30-minute drive from the house to the pool we fit reading time in. It’s pretty structured.”
Tran said swimming is a reward for Jaeden for doing well in school.
“When he has a lack of focus in school the consequence is not going to practice,” Tran said. “It breaks my heart because swimming is something he loves. He understands he has to earn it, and has to work at it. It makes him want it even more.”
Swim coaches also encourage academics and good sportsmanship from athletes.
“Just because you are good at swimming does not mean you can slack off in other areas,” Tran said. “They talk about it all the time at the pool — dedication and sacrifices.”
Jaeden is the only competitive swimmer in the family. Neither of his fathers are swimmers.
“My favorite thing is to watch him swim,” Tran said. “He is so tiny. The other swimmers are a shoulder and head taller than him.
“I’m so proud he is able to compete at such a high level.”
Tran said being raised by two fathers has helped Jaeden face public questions.
“We’re the modern family,” Tran said. “He had to deal with issues at school. He knows he’s special.”
Tran said Jaeden’s older brother Kaleb Wofford is not a swimmer, but his younger sister Zoe Grace Tran Wofford has her eye on the pool.
For now the family is cheering on Jaeden as he heads for the Junior Olympics in Coronado this July.