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De-Fye-ing the odds

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- Nicole Fye is at it again, jumping into the pool and coming out of it with another record.

Fye had a monster weekend recently at the Georgia State Swimming Championships, formerly known as the Georgia Junior Olympic Meet, winning four events and setting a state record in the 1,500-meter freestyle for her age group.

Fye, who was competing in the 11-12 year old category, not only won the race but shattered the old state record by 15 seconds with a winning time of 17 minutes, 42.88 seconds.

"That was the No. 1 time in the nation this year by 22 seconds,'' said Jeff DeMott, who coaches Fye on his local Albany-based Flint River Rapids Swimming Club. "And it was the 16th fastest time (in that age group) in history. It's remarkable. That's the first time she went that distance.''

Fye won the 200-meter freestyle, the 400-meter freestyle, the 200-meter butterfly and the 1,500-meter freestyle, then she finished second in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter backstroke, the 200-meter backstroke and the 100-meter butterfly.

Her winning times at the state meet landed her in the Top 10 in the nation this year. Not only was her 1,500-meter freestyle time the best in the nation this year but her time in the 200-meter butterfly ranked sixth.

Her time in the 400-meter freestyle was the eighth-fastest in the nation and her time in the 200-meter freestyle was the 10th best.

"There are 300,000 swimmers in the nation,'' DeMott said. "Out of everyone, all ages, she is roughly in the Top 300.''

Fye, who won't turn 13 until November, has had a big summer of swimming, which includes her stepping up and competing in the Senior State meet in Atlanta, where she went up against high school and college swimmers. There were several Junior Olympic qualifiers in the meet and one Olympic Trial qualifier.

Pretty intimidating, right?

"No, I love swimming against (the older swimmers),'' Nicole said. "It's just racing. In swimming you're always trying to get your best time, and when you have someone in there who is faster than you it motivates you more.''

By now, Fye's mother, Jeanne, is used to the idea.

"It's funny ... when she was 8 she used to swim against older kids in high school because they don't have all the same distances in the 8-to-9-year-old (meets), so she would have to swim against older kids. Back then they looked so much bigger than her," Jeanne said. "But this summer when went to Tallahassee for a couple of meets and she was swimming against kids from Florida State, they didn't tower over her. They were taller and more muscular, but not that much taller. It was an eye-opener. Nicole is 5-foot-5 now. I'm 5-10 and I think she's going to be taller than me.''

The two meets in Tallahassee in May and June were warm-ups for the Senior State meet, which took place last weekend. DeMott wanted to make sure Nicole wasn't intimidated.

"He put her up against the older kids (in Tallahassee) to give her the experience and to get her ready mentally,'' Jeanne said. "She loves these kinds of meets. The big difference is when she was a little kid she was just excited to get to swim. Jeff has really prepared her for (the bigger meets). Going into the summer we had an eye on the Senior Meet.''

Fye held her own against the older competition at the Senior Meet, where most of the swimmers were between the ages of 17 to 20.

"She was the youngest swimmer there,'' DeMott said. "There was one girl who was 15 and everyone else was a lot older than Nicole.''

Still, Nicole finished in the Top 30 in three events. She didn't swim the 1,500-freestyle because that race might have worn her out for the weekend, but she stunned even DeMott by finishing 10th in the 200-meter butterfly. She was 26nd in the 400-meter freestyle and 22nd in the 200-meter backstroke.

"She finished 10th in the 200-fly. That's quite remarkable for a 12-year-old,'' DeMott said. "It is intimidating, but it's impressive for her to be in it. She was in four events and made it to the second round of competition in all four events (including the 100-meter freestyle), which means she was in the Top 40 in all of them in her first state Senior Meet.''

There will be more in the future for Nicole, who relishes the idea of going against elite and older competition.

"She likes it,'' Jeanne said. "She's excited. She's smiling all the time. She's anxious to race. It's not a personal thing. It's about the times.''

Nicole said she felt right at home against the older swimmers.

"I have so much fun,'' she said. "I have the time of my life at these meets. It's a lot more fun, and you have more people to race and more opportunities for racing, because it's different people. I've been swimming against older girls since I was really little. Coach Jeff has prepared me for this.''

It's been a remarkable summer for the remarkable swimmer.

"I was really happy with the way it went,'' she added. "I got to achieve some of my goals. It was a great experience to get to swim against the older girls. They were really nice.''

Nicole knows exactly where she is and where she wants to be at all times. She will be a seventh-grader at Lee County Middle School in a couple of weeks, but she already has a talent for charting her progress in the pool.

It's a black notebook.

Just a simple black binder notebook that Nicole has had since she was in third grade. Her career is in that book, listed neatly and in order.

"At the beginning of the swimming season I write down all my goals,'' Nicole said. "I write down a list of the times I want to swim. I write them all down and then as the season goes along I check them off and write down new times. Every once in a while I look back at it and see the progress.''

It's too early to project how far that progress may take Nicole, but DeMott knows she is special.

"The Olympic Trials for the 2012 Olympics are next August,'' he said. "She will just turn 13 in November, but she's got a shot at making it to the trials. A solid 13-year-old making it to the Olympic Trials would be a very rare thing. Her first real shot at making the Olympics would be the 2016 Olympics. She would be 17 then.''

That may be too far down the road for now, but for Nicole, swimming is a way of life -- simply because she loves the sport.

"It's just so much fun,'' she said. "It's been a great summer. It's been a lot of fun.''