Lee County’s Nicole Fye is just 13-years-old, but Jeff DeMott, who runs the Albany area YMCA Rapids Swimming Club and has coached Fye for the past six years, says the swimming prodigy has a legitimate chance to qualify for the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb.
ALBANY — You can feel the ripples already.
They trickle across the water, slowly, gently — a steady wash, an ever-growing wake, forming and reforming the young career of Nicole Fye.
She is 13 now, this blossoming swimming prodigy who rises every morning in the darkness to keep her dream crystal clear in her mind — always staring into a future that grows brighter and brighter.
And now this — this leap of faith and talent coated with courage and soaked in exhilaration — this next step up to a new world.
That’s where Nicole is this weekend, competing in the Speedo Championship Series of the Eastern Section Southern Zone in Greensboro, N.C.
Simply put, this meet offers swimmers in the southeast part of the nation a chance to qualify for the Olympic Trials in June, and Nicole, who has been one of the top swimmers in her age group nationally, is competing in an open division against high school, college and adult swimmers. Nicole is the youngest swimmer at the meet.
“Her dream is to be in the Olympics some day, and this is the next step for her,’’ said Jeff DeMott, who runs the Albany area YMCA Rapids Swimming Club and has coached Nicole since she was 7. “This is an opportunity to step up now to open competition. The progress Nicole has made over the years has prepared her to take this next step, and she now has a chance to compete in the open events.’’
It’s rare for a 13-year-old to qualify for the Olympic Trials, but DeMott said Nicole isn’t just going to the meet for experience, but for a legitimate chance to qualify for the Trials in Omaha, Neb.
“She’s in the ball park,’’ DeMott said of her times. “She would have to hit a home run to qualify, but people do hit home runs.’’
Her best chances will come in two events, the 200-meter butterfly and the 800-meter freestyle.
Her best time in the 200-fly was a 2:23 in September, which was the sixth fastest time in her age group in the nation for 13-14 year-olds at the time. She would need to swim a 2:16 to qualify for the Olympic Trials, but DeMott believes her progress since September will give a her a chance.
He has seen her drop her time in the 200-yard butterfly from 2:11 down to 2:06, and is hoping for a dramatic drop this weekend — perhaps even seven seconds, which would send her to Omaha.
Nicole’s best time in the 800-meter freestyle was a 9:18 in January, which was the fastest time in the nation for her age group at the time. She would need to cover the same distance in 8:50 to earn a trip to the Olympic Trials.
DeMott has seen Nicole drop her time in the 1,000-yard freestyle from 10:40 in January down to 10:22 last week to set a state record by 15 seconds in the Georgia state swimming meet. She would need an even more dramatic drop in her time to qualify for the 800-meter free, but as DeMott says, it’s not out of the question.
The meet itself will be a dramatic leap for Nicole, whose dream has always been to compete in the Olympics some day. This weekend’s high profile meet is just another step on a journey that started years ago and could come to fruition in 2016 when Nicole is 17.
“There’s no question this is a big,’’ DeMott said. “It’s pretty significant. One of her goals is to make it to the Olympics,’’ adding that Nicole might have a chance at making the Olympics in 2016.
“She has a real understanding of the big picture. It’s been on her mind since she has been 8 years old,’’ DeMott said. “She understands that this is the next step in the progression. She is at a point right now where her first legitimate shot at making the Olympics is 2016.’’
Stepping up and competing against older swimmers is nothing new for Nicole.
“I’ve been swimming against older kids since I was 8,’’ Nicole said. “I’m kind of used to it.’’
She knows she will compete against adults and she knows what’s at stake, and yet none of that intimidates her.
“It’s exciting,’’ she said. “I’m thrilled. I don’t look at it as swimming against (adults). The other people are there to motivate you to do your best. I’m swimming for the best time I can get, and the better the (competition) the more it helps motivate you.’’
Nicole’s mother has seen her daughter step up in competitions all her life.
“She’s been swimming against older age groups since she was 8. She loves it,’’ said Jeanne Fye. “She doesn’t worry about where she finished. She just worries about her times. That’s all she cares about. I think she is wise for her years, but she is still a 13-year-old.’’
The training regimen is brutal. Nicole swims twice a day, and gets up at 4 a.m. to swim from 5 a.m. until 7 a.m. , and then swims after school every day from 4 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.
Still, Nicole, a seventh grader at Lee County Middle School, is a 4.0 student and recently won the county spelling bee.
In an effort to push her training to get ready for the spring meets, Nicole swam over 200 miles in the month of December, and then on what was supposed to be her New Year’s Day “fun swim,’’ to celebrate, Nicole swam a 1-mile butterfly in 22 minutes and 22 seconds.
“That’s faster than most kids can swim the mile in the freestyle,’’ DeMott said.
Not only has Nicole improved dramatically over the past months, but her every-day training has spiked since Maggie Davis started swimming for the club six weeks ago.
Maggie, a 12-year-old swimming prodigy from Thomasville, also has Olympic aspirations, especially since joining DeMott’s club.
Maggie had been swimming with Area Tallahassee Aquatic Club (ATAC), a much bigger club, since she was 7, but she got kind of lost in the bigger club and decided the hour-long drive to Albany twice a day was worth it. She gets up at 3:35 every morning to swim at 5 a.m., and then makes a second trip after school to the Albany YMCA, where DeMott is the aquatics director and his club team trains daily.
“I like it a lot better here,’’ Maggie said. “My times got a lot faster. It seems like I like to work harder, and I’m getting a lot more attention.’’
Maggie had not been ranked in the top 50 in any category, but she is now ranked 24th in the nation in her age group in both the 1,000-meter freestyle and the 200-meter butterfly. She won age-group state titles in both events last week in Atlanta, and will be swimming next weekend at Greensboro, N.C., against kids in her age group from the southeast part of the U.S.
“She’s a talented swimmer,’’ DeMott said. “She just kind of fell through the cracks in the bigger program (in Tallahassee). She just needed a little TLC to get into her own. The hallmark of my program is that you want to give time to kids who have the opportunity to excel, and give them the individual attention. In six weeks she dropped 30 seconds off of her time in the 1,000 free.’’
Maggie has also provided something no one could have predicted. She pushes Nicole, and Nicole pushes her new friend. They have become quick friends and feed off each other.
“Maggie is a very tenacious competitor,’’ DeMott said. “It helps her to have someone to chase and run down.’’
Nicole feels the same and said it felt great to swim against Maggie every day, because they push each other.
“Maggie motivates me,’’ Nicole said. ‘Sometimes I lose focus, but when Maggie is swimming against me, I know I have to stay focused.’’
DeMott feels the two will push each other for years to come as the two grow and try to reach their ultimate goal of making it to the Olympics.
“They are something special,’’ Demott said. “They are already among the best in the county (in their age group) and they are both pointing to 2016. Nicole will be 17 and Maggie will be 16. We need to prepare them mentally, physically and psychologically. They know the steps they need to take.’’
That’s what this weekend is all about for Nicole, who takes a giant step, and what next weekend means for Maggie, who is making her own name in her age group.
The ripples are getting bigger and bigger.