MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) - Tevyn Waddell hasn’t forgotten the view, two rows off the pool deck, where she watched the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha.
Waddell - then a wide-eyed nine-year-old - looked on as heroes Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte pushed the limits of how fast a human can cut through the water.
From start to finish, nine world records would fall.
“Watching the finals, it really got to me that I want to be here. There was fire at the podium, and the atmosphere of that pool was amazing,” Waddell said. “I wanted to be one of the swimmers that everybody was cheering.”
Over the years, the Mitchell standout set goals and pushed limits to achieve them, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1IhhIFw ) reported. Her state title count grew from modest to prolific between ages 12 and 13. Twice Waddell won six of seven events at state.
Last year, she won them all.
Today, she’s one of the fastest 16-year-olds in the country. In December at the Winter Junior Nationals in Federal Way, Washington, Waddell touched the wall in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 1:02.63, shaving nearly two seconds off her personal best.
The feat earned her a return to Omaha for the Olympic Trials in 2016 - but this time as a competitor.
Waddell emerged from the water in Washington to see a time that delivered a dream.
In the first 50 meters of the race, Waddell had trouble locating the flags and worried that she’d hit the wall unexpectedly. There’s always an adjustment going from short to long course swimming, the latter of which must be used for Olympic qualifying times.
But the teenage phenom delivered.
“It was unbelievable. The girl in the lane next to me actually qualified, too. I’d never even talked to her before, but we were hugging each other and smiling, and she was crying,” Waddell said. “I don’t even know this girl, but we were sharing the moment.”
Kyle Margheim, Waddell’s coach at the Mitchell Aquatic Club - aka the MAC, or simply “the pool” - snapped a photo.
“That picture is hanging right above my bed to remind me of that moment in my life,” Waddell said.
Waddell has plenty of other reminders hung up on her wall or on the mirror - not just of great moments or achievements, but of further aspirations.
“Some are to qualify for the Olympic Trials and swim on a Division I team, and she’s got long-term goals of the Olympics in 2020,” said her father, Blake Waddell.
Waddell’s focus isn’t lost on her coach, either.
“She has big goals, but she works really hard to get to them. Sometimes those two don’t always correlate,” Margheim said. “She’s a once in a lifetime athlete for a coach - once or twice, if you’re lucky.”
Waddell’s beginnings in the sport weren’t exactly auspicious - but it’s fair to say she was a quick learner. As an eight-year-old, she finished 22nd out of 22 participants in the 50-meter backstroke.
She remembers fighting the cold water at meets, one time refusing to get in the water and completing the round trip back to Mitchell without getting wet.
When she was 10 years old, she won her first state title - in the same 50-meter backstroke.
The MAC has served as Waddell’s home away from home since it was built in 2010, a much-needed addition after the local middle school closed its pool.
On a typical Thursday night in April, Waddell was there for practice along with teammates who double as her best friends. The pool was also full of kids from toddler-aged on up, their parents watching along the edge of a platform overlooking the pool.
Waddell holds the attention of many of the youngsters, continuing a trend that’s memorialized on the MAC walls. The words, “A path to follow” are surrounded by the names of swimmers who came through and competed for the MAC, including Margheim’s.
“I had role models, and I want to be a role model to all the kids,” Waddell said. “I just try to be the best person I can, that they can look up to.”
It’s a cycle that repeats itself and has the interest of the community. Perhaps it’s part reason for the trend of great athletes coming out of Mitchell. Waddell already is drawing interest from major Division I college programs, though she hasn’t made any decisions yet.
“There’s support for so many different programs that kids are in,” Blake said. “It’s not just parents or grandparents - the community truly supports the kids.”
Waddell may not train in a high-tech facility, but the beauty of swimming is that routines - not amenities - help define success. And the work is grueling.
“Most people think swim practice is we swim laps back and forth and we’re done,” Waddell said. “That’s nothing at all like what we do - we do endurance sets, dry land sets, anaerobic sets. People don’t realize how difficult swimming is.”
It helps that Waddell is driven from within.
“She has 5:30 a.m. practices, and we don’t have to wake her up - a lot of the time we wake up and she’s already out the door,” Blake said. “I’ve told her before that I look up to her, because to see somebody her age that driven enough to go after it, it’s something that if you’re 5 years old or 20 years old or 50 years old, you can take something out of it.”
That drive is there for another sport, too. Waddell is one of the best pole vaulters in the state, taking third in the state tournament last year and again this year at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays.
Watching records fall isn’t the only thing that keeps Waddell going. Even when she broke her hand playing softball when she was 12, she still was committed to daily training — without watching her hard work pay off in competition.
She made a deal with her coach at the time - she’d spend the summer in the pool working on her kicks. It was hard to watch from the sideline during races, but she made the best of the situation.
“I had a love for swimming before that, but that summer made me appreciate it so much more,” Waddell said.
Around the same time, Waddell got a growth spurt, and her return to competition showed markedly faster times. All that time practicing kicks paid off.
Since then, she’s stacked success upon success. Currently, Waddell’s ranked second in the nation for her age group in the 100-meter backstroke in addition to being ranked in several other events. And this could just be the beginning.
“It’s hard to put limits on her, because every time she’s kind of broke past those limits,” Margheim said. “I think as she goes into the next phase - swimming in college and beyond - it’s going to be exciting to see what happens.”
Working in Waddell’s favor is she’s never intimidated by the big stage.
“One thing I’ve learned over the years - call me crazy - but I am definitely a person who thrives under pressure,” Waddell said.
Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com
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