There’s a touch of irony in the fact that Payten Irwin has emerged as a standout swimmer for Niwot. After all, her mother — better known around these parts as Coach Aimee Keronen — has long been the head of Niwot’s high-performing girls tennis team. Irwin, however, never took to the racquet and court, so it was into the pool she went.
“I tried tennis, but I was always pretty bored with it,” she said. “I played soccer a lot when I was younger, but one day I just decided to try swim practice and I really liked it. It was just pretty random.”
Irwin ditched soccer for good at age 12, turning to swimming full-time with a club based in Broomfield. Last year, she made her high school debut at the prestigious Coaches Invite, where she broke the Niwot record for 100 butterfly. At the same event in the Class 4A state meet, Irwin was the only freshman to qualify for finals, where she finished fourth overall.
As a sophomore, Irwin has picked up where she left off, thanks to a busy offseason that saw her competing at the national level.
“Last year, I qualified for junior nationals at a sectionals meet, and I swam there a couple of months ago, and it was so much fun.” she said. In December, Irwin traveled to Iowa City for the 2017 Speedo Winter Junior Championships, where she finished 50th in the 200 butterfly. “I also swam at Arena Grand Prix last year, which was a lot of fun, too, because there’s obviously a lot of Olympians and it was super cool to swim with them.”
So far in the 2017-2018 high school season, Irwin has racked up several wins, and has qualified to compete in five events at the upcoming Class 4A State meet. At last weekend’s All City meet, the sophomore edged out Silver Creek standout Brandi Vu for the top spot in the 100 butterfly, and was the first leg of the winning 400 freestyle relay.
“She has such a good attitude and such a love for high school swimming,” said Niwot head swim coach Sarah Stamp of her sophomore star. “It would be easy for her, at her talent level, to never show up to practices. She’s a great supporter of the other girls, and helps them when they ask.”
During the few hours per day she’s on dry land, Irwin is a busy student at Erie High, where she transferred after her freshman year to be closer to home and friends. There, she is a member of the National Honor Society and a photographer on the yearbook staff. An excellent student, she has a special affinity for math, and hopes to study sports medicine or crime scene investigation in college.
“This year, I’m taking a lot of hard classes, but I enjoy challenging myself in school because it keeps me focused on swimming and school,” she said. In order to maintain high standards in both, Irwin avoids procrastination and late nights, as swim practice often begins in the predawn hours. “I try to get my homework done right when I get home.”
Though the high school season is winding down for the year, Irwin will be busy with her club team throughout the spring, working on a return to national competition.
“In the next year or two, I hope to get my Olympic trials’ cut,” she said. “That would obviously be an incredible thing. Summer juniors and worlds would be cool as well.”