When you burn as much energy as high school swimmers do, you've got room for some extra calories every now and again.
And when you swim as much as St. Charles' swimmers do every Christmas Training period, you can be excused if you're ready to devour dessert, hook, line and Kitchen Sink.
Ice cream as a reward for 100 percent attendance during Christmas Training is a long-standing tradition that dates back to when there was one school in town. Both St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel and St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney have continued honoring those with perfect attendance with a Kitchen Sink at the St. Charles Colonial Ice Cream restaurant.
This year, there's going to be a lot of scooping and munching. Half of St. Charles East's 44 swimmers maintained perfect attendance in what Cabel termed the best Christmas Training in his two-termed tenure coaching the program. Rooney's team added another dozen or so Kitchen Sinks to an overall total of nearly 3 dozen delicious desserts.
"It's pretty cool," Rooney said. "There were 25 practices over break. They're a pretty beat-up bunch of kids. We were averaging three-and-a-half hours at a time in the water."
Thursday, training and ice cream and everything that doesn't relate to competitive swimming was pushed to the side for two hours as the two St. Charles teams battled in their annual crosstown rivalry meet. St. Charles North won the dual meet 98.50-87.50.
But heavy training is a constant component in all January meets. Both teams trained Thursday morning and St. Charles North swam extra yards at the conclusion of the meet.
St. Charles East's swimmers like Shaun Seuschek logged roughly 120,000 training yards through the break. A senior, Seuschek earned his fourth Kitchen Sink by attending all his team's practices during the final two weeks of 2011.
"The day we do 100 100's is New Year's Eve," Seuschek said. "When I finished that last 100, I thought '400 100's, I've got them it under my belt.' It was hard, but nobody complained and everybody worked hard."
St. Charles North junior Kyle Gannon had a family commitment that left him three practices shy of a Kitchen Sink. But he said he still logged nearly 100,000 yards through two weeks of intensive training.
"Next year, when I'm a senior, I'm hoping to get it," Gannon said. "The workload over Winter Break, you know, is going to pay off at the end of the season. You know you that because you are working twice a day, for six or seven hours a day, that it will pay off at the end of the season."
This weekend marks the halfway point of the boys swimming season, and Christmas Training is always the point when all teams put in the heavy workload that helps carry them until the end of season tapered resting that creates large time drops and ultimately determines levels of success in the conference, sectional and state meets that comprise Championship Season.
"There's plenty of time to work on some things that we need to work on," Cabel said.
The St. Charles North-St. Charles East meet has for years taken place in the first week following Christmas Training. Athletes dye their hair blonde. St. Charles East's swimmers came to school on Thursday wearing dress shirts, pants and ties.
"Going into our morning practice today, we were all psyched up," Seuschek said. "We looked sharp going to school, and that's good for team unity. We were all ready to go and I can't be more proud of the team tonight."
In spite of the traditions and the outward hype -- and a very real desire to win the meet -- these teams are also very close, and that was evidenced clearly in the meet's final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay. Swimmers from both teams huddled at the end of their team's respective lanes and cheered on their relays. But the image was of a mass of Orange and Blue and Black, and everyone more or less huddled in a mass at the far end of the pool -- and no one was pushing or shoving to block out a preferred space.
"It's fun to come out and race them, and it's fun to win too," Gannon said. "Usually I'm in the 400 free relay, and today I wasn't, so I got to watch it, and it was fun cheering on your teammates."
Cabel said he is pleased with the current tone to the East-North swimming rivalry.
"It's a better rivalry than it used to be," Cabel said. "It's not so cut throat. I think we've taken a different dimension to what we think the crosstown rivalry should be. Coach Rooney and I think the same way."
By that point St. Charles North had locked up victory in the meet, thanks to a solid overall effort and some help from the non-swimming component of the meet. Rooney pointed to Tom Russe's victory in diving as one of the keys to victory.
"That was maybe the performance of the night," Rooney said. "Everything else was kind of status quo for us."
There were other solid performances to be sure. Gannon swam in the 200 medley relay, the 200 freestyle, the 500 freestyle and then immediately again in the 200 freestyle relay.
"He's a weathered warrior," Cabel said. "He's doing awesome. He swam well. These guys are beat up. They believe in themselves."