When Frank Martinez first joined the Bakersfield Aquatics Club three years ago, the then 15-year old barely knew how to swim. He spent most of his time in the pool flailing his arms and slapping the water.
Martinez has progressed leaps and bounds since then.
Now a senior at Highland High, he is one of 800 kids (ages 6-18) competing in the Central California Junior Olympics Swimming Championships, which began Friday at Bakersfield College's William A. Wheeler Aquatics Center. The prestigious four-day annual event runs through Monday, with preliminaries taking place in the morning followed by the finals in the afternoon over each of the last three days.
The meet, featuring 24 teams from throughout California, is being hosted by Bakersfield Aquatics Club, which is headed by the husband and wife tandem of Charlie Pike and Tina Cummings.
Pike is the club's head coach while Cummings serves as its Aquatics Director.
They were the driving force in getting the Central California Junior Olympics Swimming Championships back to Bakersfield for the first time since 2008.
"One of the main reasons I fought for this meet was just to try to get some more exposure of USA Swimming in Bakersfield," Pike said. "We're very (recreational) oriented, which I think is a great introduction to swimming. But this is kind of a whole another level and I just want the community to see that this is out there."
Pike, who swam collegiately at Chico State, coached the Bakersfield College swim team from 2008-2012. The 45-year old has been coaching at the club level for a dozen years and recently took over as the Highland High swim coach.
The Bakersfield Aquatics Club, a nonprofit organization, was established in 2009 after the now defunct Bakersfield Swim Club moved its operations to the Southwest part of town.
That left a huge void on the east side of Bakersfield. In just four years, the aquatic club has gone from 10 swimmers to somewhere between 150 and 250, depending on the time of year.
"Our mission really is to serve the community," Cummings said, "and to promote healthy lifestyles in swimming. That's what Bakersfield Aquatics is all about. And it's about doing it the right way. It's not about having some sort of assembly line where you just put kids and we take your money."
Each month, along with one swim meet, the club hosts a fun activity that's not related to swimming.
It's all about providing a positive place to be and promoting a family atmosphere for the kids, Cummings said.
"The kid who comes in here that knows how to swim and pays their money is just as important as a club as the kid we're taking Nationals to swim or we're taking to the Olympic Trails to swim.
"As a team, that's who we are."
Despite that type of perspective, the aquatics club has churned out several top-notch swimmers during its short existence.
Recently one of club's top athletes, Taylor Solorio, a Highland High senior, signed a letter of intent to swim for San Jose State.
Solorio won both the 50-free and 100-free at last year's Central Section Division II championships.
Martinez, a three-year member of the Scots' varsity swim team, is hoping to qualify for that meet this year. If it happens, that would be quite an impressive accomplishment, especially considering that he began his time at the aquatics club swimming in a group with 7 and 8 year olds.
"When I was started, I was crazy, slapping the water," Martinez said "My head was like everywhere. Now I'm calm and I know all the strokes. I'm so much better."
Martinez credits the aquatics club and Pike with making him a better swimmer.
"Everybody was so nice," Martinez said. "They were just so cool about teaching me."
After graduating Highland, Martinez plans to swim at BC.
The aquatics club works closely with the BC swim team, donating funds to help support the school's aquatic program. In return the club receives volunteer assistance from the Renegades whenever it hosts a meet.
The aquatics club also relies heavily on the hard work of its swimmers' parents.
"We have great families and without them there is no way something like this would work," Pike said.
But Pike believes all of the hard work of everyone involved is worth it in the end.
"An event like this, it showcases the team a little," Pike said. "It showcases our facility up here, which is a great facility. It just gives these kids a chance to see kids from the Bay Area and Los Angeles. They get to see that there's a big world of swimming out there."