When East Hampton swimmer Summer Jones touched the wall at the Winterfest Invitational Meet in Maryland back in January, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
The then-14-year-old Hurricanes travel team competitor had achieved a feat of national merit. Finishing the 500-yard freestyle in 5 minutes, 10.97 seconds not only secured her a personal best, it catapulted her into the Top 16 nationally for her age group.
“It was an extremely good feeling,” Summer said. “It is always rewarding when your hard work and dedication pays off.”
Summer was also part of a 200 medley relay team — with Sophia Swanson, Julia Brierley and Jane Brierley — that qualified to compete in the national meet. The event, scheduled to take place in March, was canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I also came close to qualifying as an individual for other national events,” she said. “Sadly, nationals was canceled, but our relay team was still very proud of the accomplishment.”
While the Brierleys are not related, Summer’s brother, RJ, and sister, Maddison, are former Hurricanes athletes. RJ is a senior at East Hampton High School and Maddison, who was also on the national team, is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. Both are ocean lifeguards. Summer was first introduced to the competitive side of swimming when attending practices with her family as a toddler.
“She always had the athletic ability,” her mother, Ann, said. “She was great. She learns things very quickly, but also had a natural ability at that age. I had friends say she was really good in the water — was going to be a really good swimmer — and she truly enjoyed it.”
Hurricanes head coach Tom Cohill has been coaching Summer since September 2014, when she joined the club team, and worked with her siblings. He attested to his swimmer’s strong work ethic and inherent talent.
“When you see that talent combined with hard work, it’s pretty amazing,” he said. “She has a desire to work and push herself really hard.”
Still, the outcome of that devotion — the 2019-2020 YMCA Top 10/16 national recognition award — was surprising to all involved. Summer said she credits her lucky pink hair tie that matches the pink swimsuits she wears to each meet. The inspirational country music she listens to before each event also pumped her up.
“I love the intensity of the races,” Summer said. “Coach Tom has also been an outstanding coach. He gives us words of encouragement and helps us improve our form and technique.”
The achievement was that much sweeter because the meet was a competition against many tough teams along the East Coast. According to Cohill, Summer also doesn’t typically race the longer distances, and is not only focused on freestyle, but the butterfly, too.
“That’s turning out to be one of her strengths,” Cohill said of the 500 freestyle. “That’s a real grueling event. She really can do all distances, though.”
While it’s been difficult to practice through the summer season, the coach said Summer has been able to stay in great shape — again, because of that drive. She never missed a practice last year, working out and getting in the pool at least once — if not twice — a day, and even went to every dry land practice offered at Philosofit in East Hampton.
“It’s not uncommon for those with high aspirations to train by themselves, because they’re trying to step up above the norm,” Cohill said. “Despite the recent obvious interruptions to sports, with the hard work she’s shown during this time despite the restrictions, she’s in the position to build off previous successes.”
“She’s on time, she’s ready, she pushes herself — it’s fun to work with an athlete like that,” the coach continued. “She’s both easygoing and a grinder. She has that nice balance, but when she’s in the water, she works really hard, and I think she has fun working hard. She enjoys being successful.”
While the YMCA East Hampton RECenter was closed, and with the pools being open for limited blocks of time since reopening, Summer trained on and in the water at local beaches. Her mother also drove her to Montauk Downs State Park Golf Course five days a week once they found out the outdoor pool there was open.
“She wants to do well,” Summer’s mother said. “It’s been amazing to watch her become such a good swimmer by really committing herself and training hard. She loves it. She likes the structure. I’ve seen many changes over the years because of this.”
It’s affected not only her swimming — setting new club records in the 100 and 200 butterfly last year — but her dedication to her schoolwork. Her mother has also seen her morph into a trailblazer.
“She’s working with the younger kids — helping them during swim meets. She babysits,” Jones said. “As a parent, it’s nice to see your child working with the younger kids and helping the coaches. It’s helped her grow into a leader.”
“Swimming has helped me gain more discipline, helped me become more competitive and also relieves my stress after a long day,” Summer added. “It helps me both physically and mentally.”
She said the sport has and will continue to make a big impact on her life, especially as she strives to be a Division I college recruit.
“Swimming is a major priority,” Summer said. “I have so much motivation to train every day because I know if I train, it will lead me in the direction that I want to go in to achieve my goals.”