By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, May 15, 2020
Having finished her final two years of high school online, Maxine Parker hasn’t really missed much these past two months as a result of COVID-19.
Because all of her coursework is done remotely, she didn’t miss spending the last few months of her senior year with her classmates – although she has missed spending that time with her teammates at Cats Aquatic Team in Illinois.
She could have attended prom for her online school but it would have required traveling to a coast to celebrate with people she barely knows.
Needless to say, while other high school seniors were denied the opportunity to finish out their final year with their friends, Parker’s past few months haven’t been much different than they always are.
“It’s true that I have missed out on a good chunk of a normal high school life, but I don’t feel like I’ve lost the social aspect as much as you might think,” said Parker, who switched to online school because her dad’s job moved the family around quite a bit. “I have no regrets about finishing high school online.
“I’ve enjoyed the freedom of learning at my own pace and working ahead. I love the flexibility and option to do my coursework wherever I am.”
Even though it wasn’t the main reason for her move to online courses, Parker said not being tied to a traditional school and/or classroom also has worked out well for her swimming – being able to travel to meets and do her coursework from the road as needed.
This fall, however, when she enrolls at the University of Georgia as a student-athlete, Parker said she is hoping that current COVID-19 restrictions are lifted enough that the Athens campus opens and students return for classes and college life.
“Online was great for high school, but I’m really looking forward to living on campus as a regular student,” she said. “I haven’t had that for a couple of years, so I’m excited about living in the dorms, making new friends, having more people to talk to and interact with, being in a real classroom – all the things I’ve missed out on the past two years.
“I understand how it has been and how it might still need to be (online), and I’ll make it work, but I’ve heard so many great things about college life that I’m excited to experience it. I don’t know if I’ll like being so far away from my family, but I know I’ll adapt.”
Parker’s swim journey that is taking her to Athens this fall began when she was 5 – having followed her older sister, Morgan, to swim practice.
She admits she and swimming didn’t “vibe” with one another in the beginning, and for the most part, she hated the water because it was always so cold.
Eventually, she got over it and grew to love being in the water, and participated in her first swim meet at 6 but didn’t take swimming very seriously.
“I wasn’t very good or fast in the beginning because I was just there to have fun,” Parker said. “My first real memory is of a zone meet I went to because my sister competed there, so I also swam. I enjoyed the swimming but not the competition.”
It wasn’t long after that when Parker started taking swimming more seriously.
Over the past couple of years, she said she’s started to really enjoy the fruits of those early struggles as a member of the 2018 Junior Pan Pacific Championship (winning gold in the 50 freestyle) and 2019 Junior World Championship teams (two relay golds and silver in the 50 free).
Both of those experiences – coupled with strong performances at the last couple Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – has given Parker a strong sense of self and confidence that she was feeling really good about heading into her first Olympic Trials this summer.
When that competition – along with the Olympics – were postponed to 2021, she said she was disappointed but believes the extra year of training with Jack Bauerle and his staff and her teammates at Georgia will set her up for a stronger Trials next summer in Omaha.
“I was definitely disappointed to hear about the postponements, but I understand why it happened; it wouldn’t be right to still be planning to go to Trials and the Olympics with everyone not having the same opportunities to train,” said Parker, who was voted a team captain at Junior Worlds. “Everyone’s training has been impacted on some level, so waiting a year will put us all on the same page and not create any unfair advantages or disadvantages.
“I do believe that my season at Georgia this fall – simply from having strong competition to train with every day in practice – will make me a stronger competitor next year at Trials. I’m grateful for the extra year, but I was really excited and swimming well this year as well.”
And even though her club team has been quarantined from training in their pool the past couple of months, Parker’s dad, Mike, arranged for her to continue to swim in a privately-owned facility so she hasn’t been out of the water like some others.
She still consults with her club coach, Vlad Pyshnenko, who was a member of two Russian Olympic teams and won four relay medals (three silver, one gold) at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
She said he has been instrumental not only in helping her become a faster, better competitive swimmer but also in sharing his own stories to give her perspective as she trains.
“He’s such a great person; he gives me so much insight into how he worked through times when he wasn’t confident in his swimming and his own Olympic experiences,” she said. “It’s been incredibly invaluable having him as a coach and mentor.”
So, with more than a year before Trials and subsequent Olympics next summer, Parker said she is committed to and excited to continue the pursuit of her Olympic dream – one she’s had since she was a little girl.
“To realize that dream – whether it’s next year or in 2024 or whenever – would truly be a dream come true for me,” said Parker, who plans to study psychology (B.S.) and consumer applied analytics (MBA) at Georgia in a combined hybrid program.
“Having competed at Junior Pan Pacs and Junior Worlds the past two years opened my eyes to how big the world of swimming is. I’m really excited about what’s still to come – especially swimming at Georgia this fall and my first Trials next summer.”