by Molly Schiltz, STAFF WRITER
27 February 2018
Grace Cooper reacts to her time in a race. “What I do in practice helps me prepare for meets,” Cooper said. Photo courtesy of the Daily Herald.
“Swimmers of the 100 freestyle, please report to the starting blocks.”
A loud voice booms over the speakers, louder than the chatter and cheers of the crowd watching in the stands. Eight swimmers congregate on the pool deck, adjusting swim caps and fixing goggles. Eight swimmers shake out their nerves as they prepare to race.
“Swimmers mount the blocks.”
Each swimmer climbs up onto her block and anxiously awaits the horn that will set them into motion. A voice says “Set” and the girls tuck, gripping the edge of the board with white faced knuckles. The horn sounds. Eight swimmers dive off of the blocks into the water and start to fly.
LIFE IN THE DEEP END
The intensity of this scene is one that sophomore Grace Cooper lives over and over again at various meets and competitions. She experienced this atmosphere just this year, when she swam at State for East’s girls’ swim team, and again when she competed in Austin, Texas, during the weekend of January 11th, in the Tyr Pro Swim Series against highly accredited swimmers from around the world. She lives in the water, finding a thrill in racing.
“[Swimming] can help me escape from other things in life,” Grace said. “It’s like my home.”
Grace has been swimming since she was just seven years old, and her practice and efforts have clearly paid off through the hefty list of accomplishments she has racked up at such a young age.
Grace won the 100 yard freestyle at State this year and placed second in the 50 yard freestyle. Her 200 freestyle relay team also placed first at State along with the 400 freestyle relay team, which even broke the state record.
Competing in Austin at the Tyr Pro Swim Series was in itself an impressive feat, as Grace swam against swimmers from all over the world. She placed eighth in the 50 freestyle, beating 2016 Olympian Dana Vollmer to do so.
Grace also is also first team all State and is an All-American. She ranks as the second fastest American under the age of 18, as well as 42nd in the world against swimmers of all ages.
Being such an accredited swimmer at such a young age does not come without sacrifices though. Grace practices six days a week, with an additional three morning practices per week. All the time she puts into swimming means missing other activities teenagers like to partake in, such as football games, sleepovers, and parties.
“She has to make sure she is smart with her health so she has to be wise with her social schedule, eating habits, hydration, and sleep. Which is sometimes a struggle when you are 15,” Grace’s mother Kim Cooper said.
Balancing swimming and school can prove difficult at times, however Grace’s focus and drive allow her to stay on task with all the requirements the various endeavors of her life necessitate.
“Life impacts Grace’s swimming when she has a heavy school load of homework [which can lead to late nights], but she still practices, many hours a day, [and] competes,” Kim said.
Grace doesn’t allow outside forces such as schoolwork to impact her mindset towards the sport she loves. Her demanding schedule has taught Grace discipline– she acknowledges that it isn’t easy when sets are hard, but she is determined to work through it.
“If I want to get smarter, I have to go to school, and if I want to get faster, I have to go to practice,” Grace said.
Grace’s application of discipline and dedication to swimming as well as to school help her stay motivated with such a demanding schedule. Grace also finds motivation through the people around her — her parents, her coach, and her teammates, all of whom she credits as the reason for her success. She also digs deep inside to find strength.
“[I motivate] myself, with trying to get good places at championship meets and looking towards the end of the season and what I want to get then,” Grace said.
Kim added that her daughter’s impressive mindset is the key ingredient to much of her success.
“Grace is driven by always wanting to be better. She just doesn’t win and is content with it,” Kim said. “She wants to [be] better then she was the last time. She is always trying to improve which comes from being naturally driven.”
“If one person does well then you know everyone else will. I want to be my best so I can be my best for the team.”
— sophomore Grace Cooper
A VIEW FROM THE SHORE
Grace’s friend, sophomore Melissa Henderson, also recognized Grace’s work ethic, explaining that Grace spends much of her time out of school in the water.
“She’s very competitive. She doesn’t give up easily, and she’s very hardworking,” Melissa said. “I know when she gets out there [outside factors are] all gone and she’s really focused on swimming.”
Grace is praised for having a great attitude. Her coach for both high school and competitive swim at Delta Aquatics, Deryl Leubner, described her as positive and optimistic and noted that even at hard practices Grace still has a great attitude and is always laughing. Her mom described Grace to be driven and dedicated.
Grace is known as a natural team player, giving much of the credit of her success to her teammates. The team has a saying: “High tides raise all ships,” which Grace describes as a source of inspiration for herself as well as the rest of the team.
“If one person does well then you know everyone else will,” Grace said. “I want to be my best so I can be my best for the team.”
Her mindset is confirmed as unselfish by all those familiar with her swimming, including Coach Leubner. He said the team is able to rely on her for everything she offers.
“She has an evolving role. She’s gone from being a model that kids should look up to their leader, now that the seniors are leaving,” Leubner said. “She is open to doing whatever is best for the team.”
This was made obvious when Grace had to quickly adapt her stroke before State this year. She had been practicing and swimming the 100 yard butterfly, but was switched to the 100 yard freestyle with just two weeks before State.
While others may not have been able to respond to such a change so quickly, Grace excelled, ultimately winning the 100 yard freestyle. Coach Leubner commended Grace’s effort.
“The pressure increases, but she still enjoys it,” he said.
Grace’s passion for swimming leads Melissa, as well as others who are close to her, to believe she has a bright future ahead of her that may encompass swimming. Kim confirmed that swimming may help Grace to experience college in both an academic and athletic sense.
“It will help her get to experience things she may not get to experience had she not been a swimmer, like travel new places, relationships with other swimmers around the world that maybe she would not have been able to experience if it were not for the sport,” Kim said. “It will also help her build on [an] important foundation of perseverance and hard work [that] can help you achieve other goals in life.”
Grace will swim again as a junior for East next year.
Molly Schiltz is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the HOWL