It took nearly a year, but Emma Reaney finally did it.
Last Sunday, at a meet known as "Swimvitation" in Omaha, Neb., Reaney shaved the final .07 seconds off of her 200 individual medley time and earned a trip to the U.S. Olympic Trials in July.
She's the first active Aquahawk from Lawrence to qualify for such an event.
"It's super-rare," Aquahawks coach Mike Soderling said. "And it's a super-high achievement. She swam a world-ranked time."
For Reaney, the achievement was the culmination of a year of hard work, extra effort and relentless pursuit. If you break it down to seconds-per-day, the Lawrence Aquahawk clipped around 1/10,000th of a second per day off her previous best. Of course, in swimming, it only takes one race to make the leap from one level to the next, a fact that helped keep Reaney focused, not frustrated, throughout her pursuit.
"At first I was just like, 'Oh my God,' and I thought it was going to be real easy after that," said Reaney, referring to her time of 2:20.69 last summer in Oklahoma City.
But race after race came and went, and the time never fell. There were plenty of times she came close, swimming several times that were within one-tenth of a second along the way. But it wasn't until Sunday when she finally eclipsed the magic mark of 2:20.49.
Perhaps the extraordinary circumstances had something to do with it.
Reaney entered Swimvitation hoping to do the best she could. But as the day went on, a variety of unexpected happenings helped pave the road for the new time.
For starters, there's friend and fellow Aquahawk Caitlin Gallagher. About an hour before Reaney's 200 IM, Gallagher predicted her teammate would swim a time of 2:19.37. She was exactly right.
But she might not have been had it not been for a swimming-suit malfunction Reaney suffered right before the race.
Speedo representatives were at the meet to promote the new LZR Racer, the company's fastest and sleekest suit to date. Shortly before the 200 IM, Reaney grabbed one and decided to try it. At first the fit was fine, but when she hopped into the pool for warmups, the suit ballooned out as it filled with water. Apparently, the handful of competitors who had worn it before her stretched the suit, allowing water to sneak in.
Panicked, Reaney raced to the top of the Qwest Center bleachers to grab a new suit. With the help of another teammate, she changed, hopped into the pool for a two-minute warmup and made it to the waiting room just as her name was called for the race.
Not more than four minutes later, she was the proud owner of an Olympic Trial qualifying time - even if she didn't know it right away.
"I touched the wall, and I didn't want to look; I was too afraid to look," Reaney said. "But after a few seconds I turned around slowly, and when I saw it I just melted, I started crying. All the adrenaline I'm sure helped."
Up next for the Lawrence High sophomore-to-be is the U.S. Olympic Trial, which is scheduled for July 1 at the same pool. At stake is a spot on the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team and a trip to Bejing this summer. Reaney will have to make it past prelims, semifinals and finish first or second in the 200 IM to earn a spot, an unlikely prospect, according to Reaney.
"To be realistic, I don't think that's going to happen this year for me; there are just so many awesome and more experienced swimmers there," she said. "But it's going to be a great experience just to be a part of it."