By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Stephanie Peacock can trace the origins of what she’s accomplished in her swimming career to a young competitor in a cheetah-print bathing suit who unknowingly tormented her as a youth.
“When I was 11, she was always winning the league meets,” said Peacock, a senior exercise and sport science major at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “I’m not sure if I ever ended up beating her, but later that year, I achieved my first Junior Olympic cut, and I was excited. Wanting to beat her really motivated me to swim and improve.”
Ten years later, Peacock is still finding motivation from the accomplishments of her competitors, and she’s definitely winning a lot more often.
She proved this most recently with a gold- and silver-medal-winning performance at her second (she also competed in 2011) World University Games last month in Kazan, Russia. She shaved 10 seconds off of her best time in prelims and went on to edge teammate Ashley Steenvoorden to win the 1,500 freestyle, and was edged by .02 to win silver in the 800 free. Steenvoorden won bronze.
Peacock said she and her distance freestyle teammate formed a bond on the trip and made an agreement during practice to pace each other in both races.
“We were together for the first 1000 (of the 1,500) and stayed close to one another for the first 600 of the 800; we both agreed that proved beneficial for us,” said Peacock, who won bronze in the 400 at WUGs in Shenzhen, China, in 2011.
“It was tough to beat Ashley both times because we became so close and helped each other, but it was also great to win my first gold in an international meet. It definitely gives me confidence moving forward.”
Moving forward into her final year of collegiate competition and school, Peacock said it seems like she just arrived in Chapel Hill for her first semester.
She wants to make the most of her last experiences as a college swimmer this season – especially Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and NCAA championships because of the way her junior season ended.
Starting in last December, she came down with a mysterious sickness that slowly took her out of competition, and by the time the conference meet came around in February, she was out of the water completely.
It was particularly tough for Peacock because she wasn’t able to defend her NCAA crown in the 1,650 freestyle – where she out-touched the three-time defending NCAA champion and broke the NCAA record set by Janet Evans 22 years earlier – or improve upon her third-place showing in the 500 free from her sophomore season.
She didn’t return to training until the week after NCAAs, and she took some time to get back into meet shape prior to the start of World University Games.
By the time she arrived in Russia, Peacock said she felt eager and ready to swim, even though she did compete at Arena Grand Prix meets in Charlotte and Santa Clara after NCAAs.
“It was definitely a disappointing way to end my junior season, not being able to compete and having to watch my teammates,” Peacock said. “But the experience gave me a new perspective and showed me how much swimming means to me. When I could get back in the water, I was more eager than I’d been in a while. I was definitely motivated and ready.”
Now, having returned home with gold and silver medals from Russia, Peacock said she is more excited than ever to see what she can do her final year in college.
Beyond this season, she’s not exactly sure what she’ll do – and how long she’ll continue training and swimming. She already knows she plans to attend nursing school after finishing her degree next May. She’s just not sure if that will be in the Fall of 2014 or after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
For now, she’s just happy to be starting her senior year at UNC and enjoying her final season with her coaches and teammates. She’ll decide the rest later.
“I love swimming, but I’m also looking forward to move on from swimming,” said Peacock, who made two finals at the 2012 Olympic Trials. “Based on what I accomplished this summer after only a couple months of training, I am excited to see what I can do after consistent months of training.
“I honestly can’t imagine being done yet, so I’m not putting a timetable on any decisions. Right now, I’m just excited to see what I can do and how my hard work will pay off. I didn’t have the meet I wanted last year at Trials, so I can definitely see myself still swimming in 2016 to make a final run at the Olympics. We’ll see what happens after that.”