The Buzz: Kaitlyn Jones and the National Independent School Record
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
A few weeks before the 2013 Delaware High School State Championships, senior Kaitlyn Jones wasn’t even sure she would swim the 200 IM. She was thinking about swimming other events. Then, when Missy Franklin broke the national independent school record, Tatnall High’s Jones told her coach about Missy’s new record, “I could get that.” Her coach agreed.
Flash-forward a few weeks later to the state championships. Kaitlyn had to swim the 200 medley relay minutes before the 200 IM. She stepped up and split a 24.2 50 butterfly. She had ten minutes before her 200 IM, but Kaitlyn reflected that the short amount of rest time actually helped her.
“I didn’t even get a chance to warm down,” Kaitlyn said about her meet schedule. “I think in a way it helped my race. I finished, saw I went 24.2 in the 50 fly, and thought, ‘This is pretty fast.’ It got me hyped.”
She couldn’t warm down. Instead, she prepared for what would be one of the biggest races of her life. She had some nerves, but she was ready to have the swim of a lifetime.
“When it came time to race, I was kind of nervous. I went after it.”
By the time Kaitlyn hit the wall in the 200 IM, the crowd roared. Kaitlyn’s family – lifelong supporters of her swimming though not swimmers themselves – cheered in the stands. Kaitlyn smashed her own personal best by two seconds. And, along the way, she bested Missy Franklin’s former national independent school record. Kaitlyn’s time? A sizzling 1:56.31.
“I wouldn’t call it a perfect race,” Kaitlyn reflects. “There are always a few things you can do better. But it was as close to perfect as I could have gone on that day.”
When I asked what the reaction was among high school friends:
“Oh my gosh,” Kaitlyn laughed. “My whole high school thinks I’m an Olympian. It’s insane. They were really happy for me. They’re very supportive.”
But it wasn’t an easy road getting to this success. Just several months before this epic performance, Kaitlyn’s coach departed and there was a coaching change – something potentially disastrous for any high school senior. Her new coach, Sean Dougherty, took over the reins. Obviously, the coaching change didn’t detract from Kaitlyn’s successful trajectory. When I asked what one word a coach might describe Kaitlyn by, she responded with “perseverance.”
It’s been a long road coming, but it’s one that resulted in a new national high school record.
She Used To Hate The Water
So many times you hear stories about elite swimmers and their instant connection with the water. Not so for Kaitlyn Jones. When she was little, she hated putting her face in the water. She wouldn’t do it at the pool. She didn’t even like getting her face wet in the shower or bathtub.
“I hated swimming,” Kaitlyn says. “I hated getting my face wet.”
She quickly got over that. At age 7, Kaitlyn signed up for her club swimming program and has loved the water ever since. She trains with her club team, Delaware Swim Team. After having a learning experience at the Olympic Trials this past summer – including swimming in the final heat in the 200 backstroke – Kaitlyn had more goals for this season.
“I had a great summer of training. I didn’t get the results I wanted. I didn’t stop. I kept going. I didn’t take a break between seasons.”
Interestingly, Kaitlyn does not swim on Fridays. Her program dictates that Fridays are swimmers’ day off while practice is mandatory on Saturday and Sunday mornings. That’s probably the first club program that I’ve heard doing that. It makes sense. It allows swimmers to recover after practice on the weekends and enjoy a Friday afternoon with friends.
“We like going home from school on Friday and not having to go to practice.”
Kaitlyn has matured throughout her brief career. She has traveled internationally. She’s competed against swimmers from other countries as part of the Junior Pan Pac team. She’s already experienced so much, and she hasn’t even attended her first college class yet.
“I met so many people and made so many friends,” Kaitlyn says. “I went to Moscow and Berlin. All these experiences teach you something every time. I’ve matured a lot as an athlete.”
Never Give Up
Kaitlyn is headed to Virginia. She values the school’s academic excellence as well as Virginia’s history as a successful swim program. She fell in love with the school as soon as she visited, and she’s been keeping up with some of the collegiate times. But she also wants to be successful in the classroom.
“Academics is extremely important to me,” Kaitlyn says. “I’m not going to be swimming my whole life. I want to go into medicine. I want to be a doctor. Choosing Virginia will help me get there.”
If there is one thing Kaitlyn has learned over the years, it is to never give up. She learned that by watching one of her teammates and role models of hers, Andrew Gemmell, qualify this summer for the Olympics.
“I’ve been swimming with [Andrew] since I was 9,” Kaitlyn says. “I’ve watched what he did in the pool every day. It almost taught me, you have a person you look up to. He was a big leader for me. I learned a lot from him. It was cool watching him train every day then go make the Olympic team. Never giving up is coming from him.”
She also looks up to friend and fellow competitor, Missy Franklin. Though Kaitlyn competes against Missy – and sometimes breaks Missy’s records – she still sees Missy as a role model and person to emulate in all facets of life.
“[Missy] is an awesome swimmer and awesome person.”
When I asked about if it was odd about beating a role model’s records, Kaitlyn quickly and humbly responded:
“She has a lot of gold medals. I don’t.”
At least, not yet.
Mike Gustafson is a freelance reporter for USA Swimming and Splash Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @MikeLGustafson.