There was a time about a year ago when Sarah Stockwell’s relationship with her lifelong love was … well, a bit on the rocks.
Suffice to say that she and swimming were still on speaking terms. But for a while, they weren’t exactly best friends.
“I had a little bit of a rough spot at the end of last summer,” said the Kent native, a 2005 graduate of Kentlake High School and now on the cusp of her senior year at Indiana University. “I was kind of frustrated with swimming. I tore a groin at the beginning of last summer, and it really frustrated me. I didn’t finish well at all.”
Fast forward to last fall. Back on campus in Bloomington, Ind., she met with the Hoosiers coaching staff, and, in her own terms, “I got my head back in the game.”
Next week, she’ll be back in the Midwest, albeit this time in Omaha, Neb. “Back in the game” has brought the 21-year-old Stockwell all the way to the United States Olympic swimming trials in the 100-meter breaststroke.
That event begins Monday with preliminary heats and semifinals, and concludes with finals on Tuesday.
“After I started training in the fall, it kind of turned things around,” said Stockwell, who won state bronze medals in the 100-yard breaststroke as a freshman, sophomore and junior at Kentlake, then snared a silver as a Falcons senior. “I kind of expected to have a good season.
“I’m training better than I ever have.”
That good season Stockwell expected? It happened. She went to the NCAA championships in the 100-yard breaststroke, the 200 breaststroke, and as part of Indiana’s 200 medley and 400 medley relay teams. The 400 medley set back-to-back school records and placed sixth overall, earning All-American status. The 200 medley placed a school-best eighth.
And, for the first time in her life, Stockwell conquered the holy grail of breaststrokers: breaking the one-minute mark, when she clocked a 59.9 split for her 100-yard leg of the 400 medley relay.
She also was in the 1:01 neighborhood in her individual 100 breaststroke. (Relay splits typically are faster because swimmers can get a “rolling start” as the previous swimmer comes in to the wall; in individual races, they must remain motionless and wait for the starter’s horn.)
“It was just really cool to finally break a minute,” said Stockwell, who broke into a huge smile just as easily as she recalled the moment. “Sophomore year, I started going a minute on relays, and I was going, ‘I can break a minute, I know I can.’”
Making the Omaha cut
But international competition such as the Olympics is a different story – not to mention a different distance. Competition is in meters, not yards, so it takes more time to get there. For the U.S. trials, the 100-meter breaststroke standard is 1:12.59.
Stockwell got there in a meet last winter.
“I swim in the prelims, and I fell one-tenth (of a second) short. And I knew I fell apart in the last 10 (meters),” Stockwell said.
But she came back for finals and logged a 1:12.24.
Omaha, here she comes.
“As soon as I hit the wall, it felt real good,” Stockwell said.
Stockwell is working toward her degree in recreational sports management at Indiana. That alone can seem like a full-time job. And swimming at the NCAA Division 1 level, particularly in the depth-laden Big Ten Conference, can seem like another one. Stockwell said a typical week is 35 hours of training, both in and out of the pool. At the end of any given week, she has logged between 70,000 and 90,000 yards.
“The training itself is so different (from high school and club swimming),” she said. “You know you’re going into a battle, but you don’t know what it is at the other end. … It’s all about survival.”
Stockwell certainly qualifies as a survivor. She said her freshman class at Indiana had 19 swimmers. By midway through her sophomore year, just six remained, all of whom are still with the team. Even one of her friendly rivals from high school, Oak Harbor’s Missy McIntyre, who won the state 100 breaststroke title all four years Stockwell swam for Kentlake and then went off the national power Southern California, has hung it up.
Approaching the end
Stockwell, meanwhile, keeps churning up a wake – something she hopes to continue doing next week in Omaha. Making the team is an extreme long shot – only the winner of each event automatically qualifies; although second place is a virtual lock, as well. In the 100 breaststroke, the top two entry times are 1:06.20 and 1:06.34; Stockwell enters with a 1:12.24.
“The fact that I can say I made it is amazing in itself,” Stockwell said. “I’d like to place in the top 16 (which probably will take a sub-1:10). At the very minimum, I want to get a best time.”
One thing has hit home with Stockwell: That lifelong love relationship with competitive swimming will be changing soon.
Even elite aquatic athletes such as Stockwell, who pride themselves on stopping the watch as quickly as possible, still can’t stop the calendar.
“(Nine) more months of swimming,” she said, looking down momentarily at her iced Starbucks drink. “It didn’t really hit me until last month. I was sitting with a couple other girls in my class, and we were talking. I’ve been swimming 16 years and I have nine months left.”
Suffice to say Sarah Stockwell and swimming are on more than just mere speaking terms these days.
Sounds as if they’re best friends once again.