Nobody likes to lose, but it’s even harder to lose to a younger sibling.
And that might be what drives Coronado swimmer Alix Mertel.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a sore loser, but I do not like to lose,” said Mertel, who owns the Sunrise Region record in the 100-yard backstroke at 57.87 seconds.
Mertel, a senior team captain who finished second at state in the 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley last year, hopes to teach that competitiveness to her Cougars teammates, including little sister Nicole.
“Having my sister on the same team as me, it creates a lot of competitiveness,” said Nicole Mertel, a sophomore who was fifth at state in the 50 freestyle as a freshman. “I hate losing; I know she does, too. But at the same time, when she beats me, I want to work harder so that I can get back to where I was.”
The Mertels are used to winning and attribute it to years of practice and sacrifice. Alix started swimming when she was 8. Nicole started at 7 but took a two-year break from the sport.
Between summer meets, high school events and practices with the Desert Storm swim club, the sisters are in the pool up to six days a week.
Their focus on the sport is so intense that before her senior year, Alix Mertel hadn’t been to a high school dance — which makes her as excited for prom as the state meet. But the New Mexico State-bound senior has had no problem trading dresses, dances and dates for swimsuits, water and wins.
“You have to skip out on a lot of things,” she said. “You’ve got to be dedicated, and not just in the pool, but outside. You’ve got to have a positive attitude, and you can’t stress about the things that you don’t need to stress about. You have to keep your head on straight.”
The sacrifice is worth it.
“I try to get everyone to think that winning is awesome,” Alix Mertel said. “It takes hard work, but it’s fun, and it brings a lot of rewards and recognition and opens a lot of doors for future opportunities.”
Amid the constant competition, Nicole Mertel said having an older sister on the team has helped her fit in with the Cougars.
“I came into the team with someone I knew, unlike her — she came in as a newcomer,” she said. “I always had her, so I didn’t feel like an outsider. And I could always come to her when I needed advice on a race. Most people don’t really have that.”
The sisters’ schedule helps strengthen their bond. Besides swimming on the same high school and club teams, the Mertels see each other between classes, drive to and from school and practices together and spend “pretty much every minute, except the hour you have during class,” in each other’s presence.
But they aren’t always competing against each other in the pool. Both play a role on Coronado’s relay teams, including last year’s state runner-up 200 medley relay (1:51.61) and third-place 400 freestyle relay (3:43.72) teams.
Having siblings on the same relay squad also helps the rest of the team to perform better.
“In years past, I’ve had relays that have some drama in them,” Coronado coach Brenda Tomtan-Brayman said. “But I don’t have to worry about them. There’s no problem, no drama; they just swim the race as fast as they can. It creates a nicer atmosphere for their relay and me as their coach.”
It’s also the only time both sisters swim the same event in a high school meet.
“I never swim them in the same events; I don’t want to throw all my eggs in one basket,” Tomtan-Brayman said. “I can rely on Nikki. She’s a very versatile swimmer, but she doesn’t want to swim in anybody’s shadow. Alix swims her events, and Nikki can swim the other events. In a high school setting, it doesn’t seem like she’s too far behind her.
“She’s very spunky. She’s very spirited. They complement each other.”
Despite their rivalry, the Mertels see themselves as tight-knit.
“I’ve always looked at us as a two-for-one deal,” Nicole Mertel said. “We come hand in hand in most things.”
Contact reporter Sean Walker at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430.