The sun was smiling down on the large limestone Sample Gates of Indiana University. Standing before them was senior Sydney Turner, smiling just as brightly.
She had just come to a conclusion: she would spend the next four years of her life swimming Division I here, pushing herself to become the best swimmer she could be.
Her decision to commit to Indiana University came after months of searching.
In 2019, she was looking at multiple universities during the recruiting process, but couldn’t narrow down her choices — until she found out about Indiana through a friend who had already committed there.
When Turner began talking to the swim coaches at Indiana, she felt an instant connection.
“It was the most positive recruiting process out of any of the other schools. Everything the coaches said, like ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re the slowest or the fastest, you’re a part of the team and an important component to what we do,’ resonated with me,” Turner said.
Additionally, Turner’s main recruitment coach for Indiana was a woman. Having not had a female coach for a while, Turner said she appreciated the “female connection” with the coach, which made her appreciate the school more.
In June, Turner went on an unofficial recruiting trip, intending to see Indiana University, the University of South Carolina, Louisiana State University and George Washington University. But her trip ended after she visited the first school on the itinerary, Indiana.
“I fell in love with the campus, and I committed on the spot. I was like, ‘O.K., I’m taking it. This is happening.’ I didn’t even go see the other schools,” Turner said.
Swimming has been a major part of her life ever since she was 4, swimming 50 weeks a year since she started competitively at age 7. She has been with four different clubs since she started swimming. Turner has been with her current club, the Davis Arden Racing Team (DART), for almost four years.
Through it all, Turner said the hard-work aspect of swim was what she liked most.
“It’s a completely different kind of exertion than something like school. It’s an outlet to exercise and push myself both mentally and physically,” Turner said.
While what she likes about swimming has remained static, her priorities in the sport have changed.
“Once you’ve hit that age where you stop growing, it’s all about your work ethic and mental grit,” Turner said. “You’re not as worried about dropping times. It’s more about showing up to practice and working to better yourself.”
Turner underwent that change when she began high school, struggling to improve her times, despite working harder.
“I had a three-year-long period — from eighth grade to end of sophomore year — where I was mentally struggling,” Turner said. I was like, ‘What am I even doing here?’ I thought about quitting a few times, but it was a good learning experience, and now I’ve never been more in love with swimming than right now.”
Having gotten over that mental obstacle, Turner was disappointed she might not be able to reach her full potential with the COVID-19 pandemic endangering her swim season.
Nevertheless, Turner is doing what she can to set herself up for collegiate-level swimming next year.
Turner goes to eight practices — each lasting almost two hours — a week, swimming in the early morning or after school.
Her coach at DART, Bill Doughty, said Turner does regular strength training to help her improve her swimming and prepare her for D1 athletics.
“She leads the team with her work ethic and positive attitude. Everyone is tired at 5 a.m., but Sydney brings a smile, a funny story and a contagious laugh,” Doughty said.
Turner’s teammate, senior Athena Lin, who swims with Turner on the high school team, echoed Doughty’s description of Turner.
“She always has these weird funny stories and moments that make you laugh like right before a race,” Lin said.
Turner’s dedication to the sport has translated into many achievements over the years. In particular, Turner was most proud of her relay team’s 10th place finish at Winter Junior Nationals in December 2019.
Turner also is proud of her Country Day team.
“We’re just a group of four to five girls, and we have been Division III section champions all the years I’ve been here,” Turner said.
Being one of the oldest swimmers on her teams, Turner said she will miss her teammates, some she has known since she began swimming competitively.
However, she looks forward to finally being able to swim at a higher level.
“Going and being a part of a college team is a different vibe because no one is forced to be there,” Turner said. “They’re all there because they want to be. So, I could not be more thrilled to be a collegiate athlete.”
— By Arijit Trivedi
Originally published in the Nov. 17 edition of the Octagon.