When you’re already a state champion in your freshman year, a swimmer might have trouble pushing herself to new heights and staying focused as she continues her athletic career.
Not Abbey Duncan. Not even in the off-season.
“We’re always training for the next season to do our best,” said the Wesley Chapel High School swimmer, who won the Class 2A state championship for the 200-yard freestyle last November. “I swim nine times a week.”
Not only is she in the pool after school, but she gets up early on Saturdays to swim, and avoids junk food and sodas to stay in shape.
She also competes in different swimming events outside of school competition. Last month, she took part in the Orlando Grand Prix at the YMCA Aquatic Center. Duncan had to qualify to get into the open event, which means it was not categorized by age. In Group C she competed against athletes who were years older, but not necessarily better. Yet, Duncan took first in the 100-meter fly and 100-meter back, and sixth in the 200-meter back.
In Orlando she also got to meet stars in her sport, including Olympic athletes like Ryan Lochte, who has 11 medals in his Olympics career and holds the world record in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter individual medley. While Duncan wouldn’t rule out an Olympic opportunity for herself, it’s not the main focus in her swimming career.
She is, however, already considering her athletic career beyond high school and plans to swim in college. Duncan said that a school’s swimming program would weigh into her decision.
But before the Olympics, or college, or even her sophomore swimming campaign, there’s the daily practice schedule and an emphasis on continuing to get better. Duncan said that repetition is important because being a successful swimmer is about more than speed.
“You have to focus on your technique. You have to be focused on swimming as fast as you can, and you have to be focused equally on your technique,” she said.
And that focus has to come before the actual competition. Thinking about maintaining her form is actually the last thing she wants to do while she’s competing, Duncan said. The practice time is designed to create a comfort level with the different strokes, allowing muscle memory to take over and letting her swim as fast as possible without thinking about it too much in the pool.
Those quick responses, which come from the regular practice routines, give her a slight advantage over a swimmer who has to concentrate on their form and technique during a race. And any advantage in a competition measured in fractions of a second can be the difference between winning and losing.
Travis Ten Brink, one of Duncan’s swimming coaches at Wesley Chapel High, said Duncan has not only succeeded in winning, but she’s made her teammates step up their game when they competed together.
“Especially when it comes to relays, they wanted her to succeed as well,” he said. “It seems to me that it brought up the other swimmers. They wanted to compete at a higher level.”
Duncan also spent time with less-experienced swimmers with their turns, starts and stroke technique to accelerate their improvement, he said.
While Duncan motivated her teammates to do a better job, Ten Brink admitted that her determination had a similar effect on him as well. While he’s an experienced swimmer who swam for Zephyrhills High School in his youth, this is his first year coaching.
Duncan’s ability allowed Ten Brink to spend extra time with other swimmers, giving them more personal attention that helped the team overall.
He’s also well aware that she’s just a freshman, and is looking forward to building a strong team in the years to come around a talented young swimmer.
“I’m absolutely excited. I was just telling some colleagues that I can’t wait for swim season,” he said. “I coach soccer, too, and after soccer was over I was like ‘When does swimming start?’”
Published March 19, 2014