I began swimming on the Burnham YMCA swim team when I was just seven years old. My mother was the one who put me on the team in the first place. She had swum in high school and in college, and she thought that it would be a good change of sport. I had done gymnastics for three years, but both my parents found it highly boring and they had no idea what was going on (What? That was you competing? I thought that was your warm-up!). So, they yanked me out and threw me into swimming.
My first couple of years with that YMCA team were rough, with only a few PRs (personal records) here and there, but what really became my obsession was qualifying for districts. My older teammates would always rave about “who was on the district team” for that specific season. The district championships are where you compete for a place in states; to even get there, you have to meet a certain time standard. When I was 10, there were only two districts: the east and the west. However, they later added a central district so that people in the middle part of the state wouldn’t have to drive so far.
When I was nine, I missed the time qualification cut by 0.09 seconds. I was absolutely devastated, but I refused to be affected by this bump in the road. The following year I trained with a vigor and a determination that I had never shown before. Lo and behold, I qualified for districts at the age of ten. At that time, they took the top twelve to states; in the 50 yard backstroke, I came in 9th. I was in the second slowest heat and swam an incredibly fast time. The time held and beat out some of the faster swimmers in the heats after me. At the age of ten, I became the youngest swimmer on my team to qualify for the state championships.
I continued to do well as the years rolled by. I missed the states cut the following year, but I have made it there every year since. I was district champion twice in the same event for two consecutive years. At states I have finished as high as second, getting out-touched at the finish of the 100 backstroke by 0.32 seconds. However, going into high school with a nearly nonexistent school swim team, I knew that I would have to go beyond what I had accomplished before in order to draw attention to it.
I swim Monday through Thursday, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day. In total, I normally only get in about six hours of practice in a week, while most of my competitors are getting in 15-20 hours a week. This makes it challenging to keep myself in the same league as them, but I work hard in every practice despite the exhaustion in order to continue to race at their speeds.
This hard work payed off this season as I went to high school meet after high school meet. In the entire regular season, I was only beaten twice, and when I got to the District 6 AA championships, I was confident that I had it in me to qualify for the PIAA State Championships. And so I did. In the 100 butterfly I came in third, with the 21st best time in the state. And in the 100 backstroke I broke the decade-old meet record to win the entire event, with the fifth best time in the state. Off to States I went.
At the state competition I dropped my time in the 100 butterfly and finished 12th, 9 places above where I was seeded. And in my 100 backstroke I finished seventh, allowing me to take my place on the podium with the medal I had earned because of my placement. As I stood up there, I couldn’t help but feel such gratitude for my parents, for having to drive me to Lewistown and back every day, and my coaches for putting up with my determination to do well. I especially was grateful to Mike Fitzgerald and his son, Sean, for getting the entire swim program off the ground. In the coming years I will be trying to encourage more people to try the sport out and to join the high school swim team. Even though late in the season I just want it all to be over, I enjoy every minute of it. I look forward to swimming for Juniata for the next couple of years!