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Cousins keep love for the pool going at state swim meet

Published Feb. 20 at 4:34 p.m. | Last updated Feb. 20 at 4:35 p.m.

A simple mention of her grandsons playing in her pool created a sudden swell of emotion in Janie Pirner, roughening her voice as she battled to gain control.

“The pool was for my grandchildren,” she said. “… We swam together. They jumped off to me. I miss it. They’re so busy anymore. I tell you, they were just a joy.”

Some of the first and best swimming memories for Heights sophomore Dawson Gantenbein, Collegiate junior Trent Pirner and East senior Nate Pirner were in their grandma’s pool.

On Friday and Saturday, Janie Pirner will watch all three swim in the state meets at Topeka’s Capitol Federal Natatorium. Trent and Gantenbein compete in Class 5-1A, Nate in Class 6A.

“I’ve got to go,” Janie Pirner said. “… They grow too fast. If you’ve got any, you know.”

Trent and Nate will swim the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke. Nate is on East’s 200 medley and 200 relay teams, too, while Trent is on the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams.

Gantenbein is swimming the 100 butterfly, 50 freestyle and is on the 400 free relay and 200 medley relay.

Gantenbein, Trent and Nate loved playing in the pool together, whether they were doing silly stunts off the diving board or having an occasional race.

“I grew up with them, and we’re pretty good friends,” Trent said. “Swimming against my friends and family, it’s a pretty cool concept.”

Trent and Nate’s relationship with Gantenbein evolved as all three got into high school.

“We saw each other a lot more when we were younger,” Gantenbein said. “We took family vacations together, too.… Now when I see them, usually it’s at swim meets. And when we’re together as a family, we don’t talk about swimming a lot. We mostly like to talk about other family-type stuff, and what we’re going to do is hunt or fish or whatever.”

While Nate and Trent have been competing for most of their lives, Gantenbein started racing less than four years ago.

“Swimming was a game-changer for him,” said Dawson’s dad, Dave, who became a meet official after Dawson started competing. “He went from being the nerdy little kid that stuffed himself into lockers … it changed his body. It changed his mentality when he started having success.”

All three have had success at state.

Dawson Gantenbein finished sixth in the 100 backstroke as a freshman and wants to win the 100 fly and break the Heights record.

Trent finished third in the 100 breast as a sophomore, and is focused on getting his qualifying time for sectionals, which are after the high school season.

Nate, who transferred from Collegiate to East in his freshman season to be a part of East’s JROTC program, is a two-time champion in the 100 breaststroke. He hopes to defend that title and help East defend its team title. He finished third in the 200 IM as a junior and has his sights on a title there, too.

He plans to row at Kansas State.

Despite the close ties, there’s little competition between them now. Not one of the three mentioned any desire to beat the others.

“They’ve always competed since they were little, whether it be tackle football in the backyard or fishing or who can build the biggest firework,” said Gantenbein’s dad, Dave, who has a 12-year-old son who hopes to swim in high school with Dawson. “There’s more of an appreciation now.”

While Nate and Trent swim the same events, they don’t see each other at meets as much as Nate and Gantenbein, who both compete in the City League.

It can be tough competing in similar events as your brother.

“Since I’m the younger brother, in some areas I tend to travel in his shadow,” Trent said. “But lately, in the last couple of years, I haven’t been following the same path as him.

“We go to two completely different schools and have different coaches. He’s 6A, I’m (5-1A). So I can just support him.”

The difference can be a positive.

“They’ve been able to kind of excel on their own merits,” their mom, Angela said. “It’s been nice.”

Nate agreed.

“During the meets we definitely both push each other,” he said. “But it’s also more of our own thing. It’s not, ‘I’m better than you, you’re better than me.’ We do our own separate thing, but also want each other to do really well while we’re doing it.”

Reach Joanna Chadwick at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachadwick.