It’s a dream Grace Cooper’s had since she was little.
When she reached high school, Cooper wrote down on a sheet of paper her goal, to make the Olympic Trials by the time she was a junior.
“Everybody wants to be in the Olympics,” said Cooper, a junior at Oswego East. “My biggest dream was to make it to the trials. In the back of my mind, I thought making the Olympics would be really hard to do. Make it to the trials, that was my goal.”
Just the other day, Cooper discovered that sheet of paper.
She’s realized her dream, too.
At the USA Swimming Winter National Championships last weekend in North Carolina, Cooper made the Olympic Trials cut in both the 50 and 100 freestyle.
“I’m really happy,” Cooper said. “My coach and I went out there, I was hoping to get the trial cut, to get that out of the way. You have to get it 18 months before the trials. It’s the first time I could qualify. I’m pleased with my swim.”
She was especially pleased with her 50 free swim.
Cooper was clocked in 25.34 seconds, fifth overall and first among swimmers 18 years and younger, the first time she’s dropped her personal-best in a year and a half.
“I’ve been close,” said Cooper, whose previous best was 25.38. “I was like 25.5, 25.6, only a few tenths of a second off. In a race like that everything kind of matters.
Cooper, state champion in both the 50 and 100, took eighth in the 100 – again, tops among swimmers 18 and under – in 56.23. Her personal best is 56.17.
“I was like .06 off, which is nothing,” Cooper said. “It’s the way you finish. I was happy with being consistent with time, since I’ve been rested for so long.”
Cooper admitted that it’s definitely intimidating being at a meet like that, coming from a relatively small town. But she maintains her focus.
“These people I’m racing against are two-time Olympians. It’s out of your comfort zone, and kind of nerve-racking,” Cooper said. “But the thing I do most is just focus on me and my lane. Do my race. I try not to focus on who is around me, while respecting my competitors.”
Cooper has a lot of respect, and gratitude, toward her coach – Deryl Leubner.
“He has got me to this point,” Cooper said. “I joined Delta Aquatics when I was seven years old, I started working with him in eighth grade. He’s always been the head coach and my individual coach. I wasn’t that good four years ago. I owe a lot to him.”