Local Girl Dreams of Olympics
First goal for Riverview's 6th Grader Annika Carpenter is to beat her coaches HNHS Record before going to High School
March 11, 2019***
While we were preparing Annika’s story for publishing, she recorded
a 1:08.22, establishing a new middle school record
By The Den's Mike Rice
Every journey, every trip, every adventure begins with a first step.
In Annika Carpenter’s case, that first step came in the form of a stroke. The backstroke, to be more precise.
Annika’s dad, Brian Carpenter, was a highly successful high school athlete. Brian played baseball, football, basketball, ran track and swam.
That success would lead him to attend Purdue University where he continued to run track for the Boilermakers.
When Annika was 4 or 5 years old, Brian and his wife, Christine Carpenter, curious to find out if Annika would take a liking to life in the pool, registered their daughter for swim lessons at the local YMCA.
Annika seemed to be a natural swimmer. More importantly, she was having fun while swimming.
A short time late, purely by chance, one of Annika’s lessons happened to take place at the same time as a local swim club, The Huntington and Wells County Otters, was practicing.
Brian struck up a casual conversation with the head coach of the Otters and the two watched as Annika paddled and kicked her way across the pool.
Christine remembers the coach telling her that Annika “does really good for a third grader”.
However, there was a slight catch.
Annika, as Christine said, had always been “a little bit tall” for her age. Annika’s height had thrown the coach a curveball. He’d been tricked into believing Annika was older than what she was.
In reality, Annika was still just a 5-year-old kindergartener.
At the encouragement of the coach, the Carpenters wasted no time in signing Annika up to swim with the Otters.
A handful of years and countless ribbons, medals and awards later, Annika is still a member of the Otters. The team is now based almost exclusively out of Wells County, with Annika being the sole remaining member from Huntington, but she has stuck with it.
Brian has joined the club, as well, becoming an Assistant Coach.
Now a 6th grader at Riverview Middle School, Annika has also joined the Huntington County Middle School Swim Team.
At time we spoke with her, she was in the midst of her inaugural middle school season and was wasting little time continuing her success.
Annika’s best time in 100 Backstroke is slowly, but surely, creeping down and currently sits under 1:09. IN fact, Annika is just two tenths of a second off the middle school record, with her 7th and 8th grade years still waiting for her.
The success has carried over to her club swimming, too.
Annika has qualified for the State Competition (11-12-year-old division) with the Otters, in not only the 100 Meter Backstroke, but the 50 Meter Backstroke, as well.
As the ribbons and medals began accumulating, Annika put her interest in other sports aside. The concentration on swimming has paid off.
Her performances have been so strong, it’s difficult for her to remember the last time she lost a race.
Her best guess was “when I was 6 or 7” and competing against older swimmers.
Make no mistake, though, even with all of her accomplishments in toe, Annika has remained the same humble girl she has always been.
She recognizes other swimmers put in the same hard work she does and admits she sometimes feels badly for them after a loss.
That said, she’s a competitor and enjoys reaping the rewards of her work. In fact, when asked if it’s enjoyable out swimming the older 7th and 8th graders, she replied “sometimes”, but added a very telling and very huge smile.
Self-described as “lazy”, Annika hates the “tough” practices of longer swims, but she knows if she wants to reach her ultimate goal of a college scholarship and/or swimming in the Olympics, those practices are a must.
While the Olympics may be some years away, there is another milestone that Annika could reach much earlier.
The current Girls 110 Meter Backstroke record at Huntington North High School stands at 1:03.16. That record, held by Huntington North Assistant Coach Sarah Kowalski, has been in place for nearly twenty years, since Sarah set it during her senior year of 2002.
Kowalski not only believes it’s likely that Annika will break her record, she all but guarantees it. Sarah told us she can see it happening as early as Annika’s 8th grade year, although it wouldn’t be official until Annika did as a Viking.
While swimming takes up a large chunk of her time, Annika hasn’t allowed her life to become totally one dimensional.
Described by her mom as “really social”, outside of the pool, Annika is much like any other 12-year-old girl.
She isn’t a big fan of chores, especially cleaning the bathroom and is grateful that her parents, knowing she spends so many hours in the pool and studying to maintain straight A’s, don’t assign her too many household duties.
She’s also an active member of 4-H, participating in projects like Swine and Cooking and loves hanging out and having fun with her friends.
The French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupury once opined that “A goal without a plan is just a wish”.
It’s doubtful he had foreseen the future and had Annika in mind when he spoke those words, but they fit her well.
She knows, in order to reach the collegiate or Olympic level, the day will come when the hours in the pool will have to grow longer, the training seasons will need to stretch out further and the free time will be forced to dwindle down.
It’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make, when the time comes, but it’s a delicate balance. Start down that road too soon and the risks of over training related injuries and burnout rear their ugly heads.
She’s found the perfect antidote to those fears, the perfect plan to partner with her goal.
It’s a simple plan, really, one we can all learn from.
Keep it fun.
Fun is what first pushed Annika toward swimming and it’s undoubtedly what will carry her to the top of the Huntington North record boards and beyond.
The Den will continue to monitor Annika's progress.