WALLA WALLA — When Carl Jones graduated from Walla Walla High School in 2007, he left as the most decorated swimmer in program history.
He captured one Class 4A state title in the 200-yard free and two more in the 500 free during his tenure as a Blue Devil and was also named the state Swimmer of the Year during his senior year.
For his overwhelming success as a Blue Devil, Jones will join fellow Wa-Hi greats such as Drew Bledsoe and Eric O’Flaherty in the Wa-Hi Hall of Fame.
“It’s surreal,” Jones said. “When you’re doing all that stuff in high school and college, you don’t really think about the Hall of Fame too much. It’s just kind of a nice bonus. It’s really fun being back and inducted into the Hall of Fame because I know Walla Walla High School has a big tradition of their Hall of Fame. It just means a lot.”
Jones is also the first swimmer to be inducted in the Hall of Fame, which is fitting, in the eyes of his former high school coach Brad Daly.
“He deserves his place there among them because there’s no higher level to swim at than the Olympic Trials,” Daly said. “For swimming, the Olympic Trials is the big event. Carl placed 36th in the 2008 trials. That’s a tremendous accomplishment. He deserves his place up there with the Bledsoes and O’Flahertys.”
During his time under Daly, Jones set six of the eight individual records at Wa-Hi. Five of those records still stand. He was a four-year letterman and voted most valuable swimmer all four years.
He holds district records in both the 200 and 500 free and was named to the Big Nine All-Conference team every year. As a high schooler, Jones was named a high school All-American three times and received eight All-America awards.
Daly said Jones was easily the best swimmer he had coached, but his personality outside the water was equally impressive.
“He’s just a giving guy and he’s modest,” Daly said. “He doesn’t flaunt his success. (He’s) very under spoken. He was a real good friend and highly respected by his teammates both for his swimming and his leadership.”
“I wouldn’t say it was due to me, but I still love that (the current team) has the spirit that we had when we were here,” Jones said. “Swimming was a really fun team to be a part of in high school. It wasn’t just about the sport and (being) super-competitive.”
After leaving Wa-Hi, Jones met then-University of Tennessee coach John Trembley at the 2006 U.S. Swimming Spring National Meet where Jones qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials in the 1,500-meter free. Trembley recruited Jones to Knoxville, where Jones was tasked with stimulating a distance program that had been dormant for years.
But his tenure as a Volunteer was marred with turmoil, as Trembley was fired in the middle of Jones’ senior year and Trembley’s replacement, interim coach Lars Jorgensen, was promptly released a few months later. Jones was faced with a serious dilemma.
He had qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials in the 200-, 400- and 1,500-meter free, but was growing frustrated with Tennessee and a lack of funding.
“Swimming is a sport that you need to be funded once you get to a certain age,” he said. “So I know that part of my athletic career is over.
Jones found giving up a sport he had invested so much time into difficult, but with no clear path for his swimming future, Jones said it took him two years to finally call it quits.
“Leaving the way it did at Tennessee has kind of left a fuel to me,” Jones continued. “I don’t feel like I’m done. (I) might be done with swimming, but my (desire) to compete is still there. I think the way it ended, I didn’t go to the Olympics after qualifying, that’s still there. I still think about that a lot.”
With the window officially closed on his swimming career, Jones turned his competitive drive into a different outlet — coaching.
“It’s still competitive and you still reap the rewards of helping kids achieve their goals,” Jones said. “That’s what I love about my job — it’s really fun and still competitive and that’s what I love.”
After a coaching stint in Georgia last year, Jones relocated to Santa Monica, Calif., in July where he instructs a junior Olympic group of 9-to-12-year-olds.
He has also taken his younger brother, Tyler, currently a swimmer at Wa-Hi, under his tutelage.
Tyler spent part of last summer in Santa Monica working with Carl, where he impressed the senior Jones.
“The way he trains,” Carl Jones said. “He’s a tough trainer. In front of me, I don’t know if he’s trying to impress me or what, but he works really hard.”
“He’s always helping me out and doing everything he can for me,” Tyler said. “He wants me to come down and train with him this summer again. Just so we can be together because we haven’t always been close because he’s at college and so far away. But we’re always writing letters to each other talking about everything I was doing and he was doing.”
Tyler’s improvement was on display during Wa-Hi’s dual meet on Saturday, as he scored lifetime bests in the 200 and 500 free. With Carl’s tutelage, perhaps Tyler could even approach some of Carl’s school records.
“He’s a distance animal,” Carl said of Tyler. “I think it’s just our genetics. I’d love if he broke my record. Obviously, he’s got to earn it.”
Tyler already scored one victory over his brother, as they competed at the Blue Devil alumni meet over Thanksgiving break. After Carl had scored victories in the freestyle events, Tyler responded with a win in the 100 backstroke.
“That was pretty cool,” Tyler said.
Carl Jones’ drive has brought him back to the water in recent months, but instead of stopping there, he’s adding cycling and running to his repertoire as he now competes in triathlons.
He won his first two triathlons, and there seems to be more first-place finishes on the horizon.
“Now that I’m more stationed in California, there’s a lot more (places to train),” Jones said. “Swimming and running is great there. It’s just starting to get into the triathlon season for 2014, so we’ll see what happens.”