Sarah Henry, a West Johnston High graduate, had four top 10 finishes in the NCAA Division I swimming championship while swimming for Texas A&M last weekend in Indianapolis.
Henry was second in the 1,650-yard freestyle, sixth in the 400 individual medley and ninth in the 500 freestyle. She also helped the A&M 800 free relay to a fifth-place finish.
Haley Anderson of Southern Cal nipped Henry, 15:45.89 to 15:46.41, to win the 1,650.
“You allow yourself a time to mourn,” Henry said, “and then you try to flip the whole process on its head and use it for motivation. The next time you are at practice and you’re feeling bad, think back to that half second and push yourself more.”
Swimming the 1,650, which is about a mile, is painful, she said. The burning starts around the 400-yard mark and builds.
“At the halfway mark, you’re thinking, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Halfway.’ And sometimes you think you just want it to be over. The bell for the last lap is a wonderful sound.”
Henry was the first A&M woman to win a Southeastern Conference championship. She won the 500 and the 1,650 in the SEC finals and took third in the 400 IM.
She missed all of last year with her second ACL tear in her right leg.
“To swim this well after missing a year has been exciting,” she said.
West Johnston coach Logan Francisco said Henry did some incredible things as a senior. Henry tore the ACL the first time during her junior year and wasn’t fully recovered by the start of her senior season. She could not dive into the pool during the first meets.
Instead, she started in the water against the wall as other dived farther into the pool..
“Everybody else had momentum and she had none,” Francisco said. “She was always behind at the start, but to watch her catch up and then win by half a pool length was amazing.
“She doesn’t let anything distract her from her goals.”
Henry said her performances in the NCAA meet were a mental boost.
“Winning an NCAA championship is the goal of every college swimmer and I came close,” she said. “You aren’t just racing Americans because our college teams have swimmers from all over the world. If you come this close you realize that winning is not just some dream, but it could become a reality.
Henry set N.C. High School Athletic Association records in the 200 freestyle (1:47.97) and the 500 free (4:46.69) in 2010. The races are the longest distances contested in the NCHSAA championships.
“For her to excel that much in distances that were not really her strengths – although everything seems to be her strength – just shows you how exceptional she was in high school swimming,” Francisco said. “A lot of students lose their focus when they go off to college, but Sarah hasn’t.”