• Blaine Hoppenrath

The 2009 Big XII Swimming and Diving Championship in Review

All swimmers know it, they know the moment they hit the water what kind of race it's going to be. They know if they are going to have a good race that might feel terrible, the kind where they really have to gut it out to get a decent result. They know if it's going to terrible because their body just wants to sink to the bottom of the pool because it feels like lead. And every once in a while, the know when the swim is going to feel exactly the way it should. While no race can be perfect some really do feel like they are.


The summer of my freshman year I had one of my best summer training sessions. I was committed to going to every practice and every weight session. It was the summer I fell in love with weight lifting, and learned how to conquer a practice slightly hungover (work hard...play harder). I don't remember how my long coarse season turned out, but it didn't really matter to be. For the record, I hate long coarse. However, that summer set me up for a season of ups and downs. I honestly had no idea if it would pay off in the end.


I went through they typical college training cycle. Conditioning in the fall, cumulating "Shocktober" (where we basically get our butts kicked for an entire month), and finishing up winter semester with the Texas Invite.


Let me tell you about the Texas Invite. The Texas Invite was so bad I got last, twice, in the same day, IN THE SAME EVENT. How does one get DFL (dead f***ing last) twice? Well, I qualified for finals because only 22 people were in the event and 24 people made it back. Therefore, I had the opportunity to get last twice, which I did. It was one of "those" meets, where no matter how much I tried my body just sunk to the bottom of the pool, no matter how hard I tried, the pain got the better of me.


After Texas, the next big milestone of the season was Christmas Training. The few weeks every swimmer dreads because there is no school. It's only eat, sleep, swim for two solid weeks. As a bonus our coach would let the D-Group (D Group) do 50 x 100s on the 1:10 first thing on New Years Day. That means four lengths of the pool, fifty times, and I only had one minute and ten seconds to do each repeat. I failed the set. I made about half, and then fell off pace (and had to finish the set on a slower interval). It was a pretty demoralizing workout.


About halfway through winter training we headed out to San Diego for the week before spring semester started. One afternoon during out weight lifting session my coach pulled me and Maliene, one of my teammates, aside to let us know we were going to get redo the hardest set of the year.



That was probably the set when my season truly shifted. Not only did we finish the set we crushed it. We were doing repeats with 5-8 seconds rest. I had never felt better on a set like that and I know Maliene felt the same way. It was probably my best workout in college, and I can say that because it's one of the few that I remember the details of.


The rest of the season was a blur. That is until we got the the 2009 Big XII Swim and Dive Championship at the University of Missouri. For me, I was back on my home turf, at a pool where I had swam at in high school. A pool where I gave Michael Phelps a high five, and had some of my better long coarse meets. Not to mention, my family was there, and my friends.


I would be swimming four races. The 500 Freestyle, 400 Individual Medley, 200 Butterfly, and 1650 Freestyle. Swimmers can only swim three races to score points for their team, but can enter additional races for any reason. That would be the case for my 500 Freestyle.


My first race would be the 500 Free, I dove in and it felt like I was barely breaking a sweat. And I know you don't feel sweat anyway when you are swimming but it's the figure of speech that I am going to use. I built my way through the first half of the race and never let up. I knew it was a one of a kind race. As I raced into my final three turns I could feel myself building up momentum, I knew it was going to be my personal best time, I just didn't know by how much. I touched the wall and saw that I had clocked in at 4:52. That was a full five seconds faster than my personal best time. That is a lot of time in the world of college swimming. Any swimmer reading will know thats and okay time for a woman, but had I not been in the exhibition I would have scored points for my team.



I remember getting out the pool and being greeted by Jenny, a senior that year, with her arms wide open to embrace me with a hug. The whole team knew how great that race was. It was the kind of race everybody dreams of. The kind where it hurts in a good way, and everything is left in the pool.



The next day, I swam in the preliminaries of the 400 IM. I was more nervous than the day before, because I could qualify for finals this time. I don't remember much of that preliminary race, because I dropped 7 seconds and qualified for finals. I almost made Top 8 and the A Final, but finished in 9th. In swimming when a swimmer makes it back for finals they can't move up or down between finals. Therefore anyone who makes the "A" Final (1st-8th place after prelims) can get no lower than 8th place and swimmers in the "B" final can get no higher than 9th, even if they swim faster than someone in the "A" final.



Needless to say, it was bitter sweet not making Top 8, but that night, just like the rest of the meet had been going I dove in and felt like I was swimming through air. I sailed through the butterfly, my best stroke, and maintained my pace through the backstroke. I remember my legs starting to fade in the breaststroke, my worst stroke, and willing my body to make it to the freestyle portion of the race. I held on for my last quarter of the race and finished with nothing left in the gas tank. I took another second of the time I had swum in the morning. It was the perfect two days of swimming.


I don't remember the rest of my swims to the extent of the first three. I remember that I went a best time and scored in my 200 Fly, and scored in the 1650. In college swimming, scoring is what counts and I was one of only a few swimmers that year who had scored in every individual event. It was the meet of a lifetime. The kind swimmers live for. Where you feel like you have left everything in the pool and made your parents, your coaches, your teammates, and most importantly yourself proud.



It's hard a decade later to come to terms with my swimming career. I don't talk about it much, I am sad about all of the goals I never accomplished. But thats not the point of this story. The point is, it was the best swim meet of my life and I will never ever forget that feeling of swimming six of the best races of my life. I will never forget that elusive feeling of sailing through the water, with the feeling of weightlessness. Most importantly I will never forget the feeling of making myself proud.


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© 2020 Blaine Hoppenrath