Headed to State

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Few athletes understand the true nature of the bubble.

The bubble is loud, dark, sometimes chaotic and can be humid, even when the temperature without is unrelenting and frigid.

There are all types of bubbles. Tennis bubbles, football bubbles, the bubbles your kids blow through priceless childhood toys during warmer months.

But this bubble is different. This bubble is full of water, full of air and full of concrete, and that organic amalgamation is stocked to the brim with athletes that know no bounds when it comes to measures of personal success.

The Socorro swim team practices in that bubble, so full of life and personal resolve, and every last soul who enters its depths makes a commitment to a sport few grasp the true nature of.

Simply put, swimming is difficult, and that may very well be a gross understatement. It's a sport requiring an eloquent blend of athleticism, timing and relentless will.

So far a few individuals have stood out for Diedra Vinson's 2013 squad, but one in particular is making the kind of noise people will surely remember.

Her name is Charlene Gonzales.

Known as Charli to those close to her, the sophomore swimmer, just 15 years old, was born in Albuquerque but raised in Socorro. She began swimming for Vinson during her fifth-grade year for the Stingray summer program, and her success thus far isn't exactly unexpected.

Gonzales is a mature, well-spoken, down to earth kid who has fully committed to the perceived perils the sport of swimming potentially offers young people.

Again, it's a time-consuming and physically demanding venture. Vinson said she's always seen Gonzales as a mature individual, but she likely started out just like any other summer pool-dwelling kid.

"It was just that I used to love to go to the pool and hang out with my friends," Gonzales said. "When you have your friends around you, that's what really makes it a fun experience. You stick to your workouts and have fun afterwards."

Having fun is of course all well and good, but the world of competitive swimming is a ferocious and sometimes unforgiving one. So the fact that Gonzales decided early on to commit to the sport is likely a key to her youthful success.

"I decided after swimming for a good two years, I knew I wanted to keep doing it," she said. "I knew that I could be good if I really tried hard."

Gonzales is undoubtedly good, but it's her continual drive that represents not only a personal desire for swimming success, but also a manageable and formulated degree of growth in all aspects of her life.

She strives to set aside equal amounts of time for swimming, homework and her personal life. She said it makes things go smoother.

She's also excelling in a stroke many swimmers don't necessarily find to be easy or forgiving, and that's the breaststroke.

"I think my first year of high school season (her eighth-grade year), I was OK at it, but then I swam one good time," she said. "I kept breaking it down a little bit, more and more, and working hard during practice. I thought maybe I can do it if I tried hard enough."

Already at a young age Gonzales is excelling individually, and regardless of what happens in the next four weeks she'll swim at state. She qualified in the 100-yard breaststroke weeks ago.

She's earned that qualification, and she still has a personal goal of knocking three seconds off her time before her senior year. But the concept of team is in no way lost on her.

The Socorro girls' 200-yard medley relay is only five seconds off qualifying pace, and the Lady Warriors' 200-yard freestyle relay is even closer.

"We have a really, really good relay team this year," Gonzales said. "We're really close. We just have to keep doing what we're doing and go to meets and try our hardest. I love this team. We're like a really close family type of team. We're super close because we spend every second of the day together."

In addition to that measure of team unity, Socorro has a support system in Vinson that seems to serve as a consistent substructure for an ever-evolving program.

"She just motivates all of us," Gonzales said of her head coach. "She gives us really hard workouts, but we all know it's to better ourselves. We know she's going to make us better in the long run. She loves us like she's our mom. It's comforting."