RED OAK, TX — Siblings Hunter and Hannah Gnoza are lapping up honors through swimming, a sport they have enjoyed their entire lives. Hunter heads to college waters this fall, while Hannah pursues pool perfection at Red Oak High School (ROHS).
“I became interested in swimming when I was 3 years old and my older brothers were on the Waxahachie YMCA summer league. I never liked having to watch them. I always wanted to compete against them,” 18-year-old Hunter said.
Hannah, too, has always been around water. “My older brothers were all swimmers, so I literally was going to swim practice and meets even before I was born,” she said.
The duo has just wrapped up a summer of preparation and have their sights set on their latest swim goals. “During the summer, I left at 5:00 a.m. and went to The Colony to train for most of the day,” Hannah said, as did Hunter. The two are no strangers to long hours of practice.
During the school year, they spent mornings with high school coach Kendra Blakley performing “drylands” — weight lifting, running and cardio exercises. After school involved trips to the Lewisville natatorium for pool practice and more drylands, typically until 7:00 p.m., training 30 to 35 hours per week. Summer finds the Gnozas training most of the day.
“You would be surprised how much a swimmer needs to train in and outside the pool. I practice year-round, even on holidays,” Hannah said.
Hunter added, “I train an average of six hours a day, including Saturdays. We even practice on Christmas Eve.”
Because so many years are invested in the sport, the Gnozas can’t imagine life without it. “I started swimming competitively at age 4, but my parents would only let me do it in the summer when I was that young. I swam on the Waxahachie YMCA summer team, and it was all for fun,” Hannah said. “Every year, I couldn’t wait for summer so I could join the team again. It was so much fun, my brothers and I didn’t even want to take family vacations during the summer. Now it has become a year-round commitment.”
Hunter recalls having a swim coach for as long as he can remember. “I’ve pretty much had the same coaches as I was growing up. I trained at the Duncanville Natatorium under Frank Gammon and Jay Chagnon since I was 5,” Hunter recalled. “This past year, I moved my training to the Lewisville Natatorium in The Colony to continue training under Coach Chagnon.”
Not surprisingly, coaches have greatly inspired the swimmers. “Coach Chagnon is my biggest inspiration because he has actually been where I’ve been in
this sport. As a swimmer himself, he understands my darkest and my happiest moments,” Hunter said. “He’s made me realize if I do everything I can and still come up short it isn’t because I failed; it is simply because the guy next to me was “I’ve had to work to just pay attention to myself and to realize I deserve to be at those big meets just as much as everybody else there.”
faster than I was on that given day. And the next day, we go back to work.”
Unlike some teens, Hannah is more inspired by local athletes than famous ones. “I have teammates and competitors who inspire me. One is a girl from Waco who swims for Texas A&M,” Hannah said. “She is very committed and never lets wins go to her head. She encourages me to have confidence and always makes a point to acknowledge my races.”
Hunter, too, appreciates fellow swimmers. “Melissa Prince, who is on my high school team, loves this sport as much as I do, and we share a special passion when it comes to swimming,” he said. “She taught me that it is about enjoying the moment. I look to her when I get down, and she always lifts me back up.”
The Gnozas have learned to embrace the highs and lows of swimming. “It can be a very lonely sport if you let it be. There is little interaction with others at practice because your face is in the water most the time,” Hunter noted. “But the coach and kids I’m surrounded by make it fun. It’s like a big, happy family.”
Hannah’s biggest challenge has been overcoming self-doubt. “Every meet I would get nervous and start thinking I wasn’t going to do well. I would watch everyone and think they were way better than me,” she said. “I’ve had to work to just pay attention to myself and to realize
I deserve to be at those big meets just as much as everybody else there.”
Such focus has led Hannah and Hunter to a number of swimming accolades. Hannah was 2010 District Swimmer of the Year, has been a regional record holder in the 100 freestyle, a regional champion and a state finalist. She earned All District, All Region and All State for the past two years.
“Since I’ve always been a swimmer, I never realized how hard it is for others starting out. I’ve seen kids in excellent physical shape that can run for miles, play several sports, etc., but put them in a pool and tell them to swim 100 yards and they either can’t do it, or they have to stop and rest. I average 6,000 to 8,000 yards every practice,” Hannah said.
In high school, Hunter earned All State and All Region four times. He was District Swimmer of the Year for three years and District Freshman of the Year. “I’ve always had a lot of strength and endurance. I came to rely on these two factors without focusing on technique.
It worked when I was younger, and I could usually beat my competitors at meets,” Hunter recalled. “As I got older, it became harder to win, and like most athletes at some point in their career, I’ve had to make major changes in the way I train. Quality laps over the quantity of them are now paying off for me. I understand the importance of correct training techniques rather than just going to the pool and racking up yardage.”
Hunter now swims for The University of Texas of the Permian Basin and hopes to place at the NCAA Championship meet next spring. Hannah would love to win state while at ROHS. Beyond swimming, Hunter plans to become a physician’s assistant after attending nursing school, while Hannah favors marine biology. Both agree, however, swimming will always hold a special
place in their lives — but not only for the awards.
“Sports are so much more than competitions,” Hannah said. “When I look back someday on my swimming career, I doubt I’ll remember very many of the races, but I know I will remember all the good times I had with friends.”
Written by Angel Morris.