By LAUREN CLOSS
Silence ensues in the seconds before the swimmers hit the water. Cheers erupt from the coaches and families that know the vast amount of work and training that has led up to this moment at the NCAA Division III Swimming Championships. The crowd roars, the names of individual competitors sometimes cutting through the block of sound as the swimmers make their final flip, turn and focus all their energy on propelling themselves down the final stretch. Two such swimmers, seniors from the University of Mary Washington, experienced this event for the last time, although very successfully with both earning All-American honors.
Dallas Tarkenton and Anna Corley represented UMW at the championships in Shenandoah, Texas from March 15 to 17. They had to rank in the top 16 in the nation for an individual event in order to attend. Once there, they each competed in three events. Tarkenton placed 31st in the 200-yard individual medley, fourth in the 100-yard butterfly, and won the consolation final in the 200-yard butterfly finishing ninth. Corley finished 13th in the 200-yard IM, 26th in the 400-yard IM, and 47th in the 100-yard freestyle.
“The meet was great,” Tarkenton said. “I really trained only fly this year in preparation for the meet so all my butterfly times were great. I was really happy with my 200-yard fly time and honestly it was as close to a perfect meet as one can get.” His time of 1:47.62 is his personal best for the event and a school record.
Tarkenton had a highly successful meet as well, earning All-American honors for the second straight year.
“My favorite race to swim is the 200 fly just because it’s so fun to race people in a longer event that’s grueling on the body and fun to win,” Tarkenton said.
Corley’s favorite event is the 200 IM. “It is also my best event,” she said. “I love being able to change strokes during the race. It keeps it interesting.”
“I couldn’t be happier with my results,” Corley said. “All I could think about this season was making it back to the meet and then once there my ultimate goal was to make all American in my best event and I did. The trip was so much fun meeting swimmers and competing at that level is a whole new world. Such an amazing feeling.”
It can often be difficult for athletes to balance training with their social and academic lives because of the massive amount of work required to be successful in competition.
“The road to get there is a lot of dedication, hard work and sacrifices,” Corley said. “It’s about deciding what is most important to you and if reaching that level is truly a goal and then doing what you have to do to get there. Like not staying up late on weekends drinking and going out with friends and managing time wisely to fit in work and school and swimming. At the time it’s hard and tiring and grinding but once you reach your goal it’s all worth it.”
Tarkenton explained how there are extra challenges associated with swimming due to the events being individual.
“I struggled in the beginning with the mentality behind the sport, since it’s such a pressure-filled sport.” Tarkenton said. “Every little detail or stroke or flip turn can make or break a race and since it’s only you that can be really challenging to deal with. The physical stuff is always going to be tough or else you’re doing it wrong but the mental side is the one that takes the most time and effort to master.”
Despite the difficulties, the general consensus is that the feeling that comes from meeting goals and succeeding at championships is well worth the effort.
“The championship is one of the coolest and most humbling experiences because of all the people who have the same dedication to your craft as you do and watching all the success around you is invigorating,” Tarkenton said.
The long swim season spans from pre-season training in October until the National Championships in March, making collegiate swimming one of the most rigorous in the NCAA.
“It’s an incredibly tough sport and the time commitment everyone on the team makes is almost crazy to anyone trying to fulfill a full college experience but all of them would give you the same answer and say it’s the best thing about college,” Tarkenton said.