Many athletes are able to let go of their worries when they step between the lines of competition.
Bishop Gorman swimmer Olivia Barker becomes focused, no matter how big the stage.
“I love the water. It just calms me,” she said. “Before races, I get really nervous. But then I just think about nothing but that race. I just go for it.”
Unwilling to be intimidated last year as a freshman, Barker made a splash that left her with a historic season and a national name in swimming circles.
The 16-year-old sophomore already has posted qualifying times in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly for the 2012 Olympic Trials, which begin in June in Omaha, Neb.
Last high school season, Barker was named Sunset Region Swimmer of the Year after she helped Gorman win its first state championship.
She captured individual state titles in the 50-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly, and her state meet time of 55.26 seconds in the 100 butterfly is a state record.
“It’s just natural talent,” said Barker’s coach and stepfather, Ron Aitken. “She’s very strong and she’s always been very determined.”
As the longtime coach for both Gorman and Barker’s club team, Sandpipers of Nevada, Aitken has had a firsthand view of his stepdaughter perfecting her strokes over the years.
“There was a time when she was 8 years old that she didn’t want to swim, but because Dad was going to practice, she had to go, so that’s what she did,” Aitken said with a laugh.
By age 10, Barker was setting records for her club team, so her breakout performance as a high school freshman wasn’t a total surprise.
In addition to her state record performance in the 100 butterfly, Barker won the 50 freestyle in 24.01 seconds at last year’s state meet and was part of 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams that took second.
With the help of fellow freshman standouts Meghan Boland and Lindsey Englestead, the Gaels won their first girls swimming banner to hang in a gym decorated with dozens in other sports.
“The women’s Gorman swim team had never won before,” Barker said. “We only had five girls, including our diver (Ciera Cortney), and we won state, so that was a major accomplishment for all of us.”
Barker said her goal for next year’s Olympic Trials is to reach the finals of either event. Even if that doesn’t work out, she’ll use it as a primer for 2016.
“I think it’ll be a great experience. It will teach me how to swim in an environment like that,” she said.
While Barker’s training schedule is demanding, Aitken said his family has achieved a healthy balance that leads to her success in the pool.
“Ninety percent of the time we’ve been able to keep the coaching at the pool and the fathering at home,” he said. “I think that’s the most successful part about dads who are coaches, is to be able to let them be family at home and do sports at the training facilities.”
Barker’s love for the water has spilled into the classroom, as she hopes to study marine biology and swim in college.
Contact reporter Tristan Aird at email@example.com or 702-387-5203.In-depth high school sports coverage
SWIMMERS TO WATCH
Bishop Gorman: Ian Sinclair
Bonanza: Sam Wieser
Boulder City: Gunner Braden, Dylan Bunch, Cody Molisee, Drew Peterson
Coronado: Tyler Greenwald (diver), Jacob Luna, Hans Nossen
Green Valley: Robert Hommel, Thomas Meek
Palo Verde: Adam Henley
Spring Valley: Dylan Wolf
Virgin Valley: Skyler Vent (diver)
Bishop Gorman: Olivia Barker, Meghan Boland, Lindsey Englestead
Boulder City: Megan Purdy
Cimarron-Memorial: Crecenciana Ebia (diver), Amanda Guerrero, Tzu Lin
Coronado: Melissa Fillmore, Samantha Harrison, Nicole Mertel
Green Valley: Smarand Georgescu, Aubrey Grensing, Crysta Imahara (diver), Sarah McKay, Carlee Oswald
Palo Verde: Kim Coombs, Alexis Mayhall
The Meadows: Jessie Barra, Eliana Crawford