By Aaron Garcia
At first, Weddington resident Collin Higgins was a bit underwhelmed by his swimming records and the blazing times that earned him those distinctions.
Last February, while competing for Charlotte Latin School during the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A championship meet, Higgins brought home gold in two events. He finished the 100-yard backstroke in 50.15 seconds before logging a 1-minute, 54.02-second time in the 200 individual medley. His finish in the 100 backstroke set a state record, while the 200 medley time is still tops at Charlotte Latin.
“Oh, OK,” he thought to himself.
A ho-hum response to what he thought was a ho-hum mark.
“I wasn’t even focused on the record or anything,” he recalled. “I really wanted to break 49 (seconds in the 100 backstroke).
It’s not often that one response can summarize what sets a person apart. But in Higgins’ case, the lack of excitement pretty well describes what has made the senior one of the area’s best swimmers: If he’s not improving, he’s not succeeding.
“He’s been a very determined swimmer,” said his mother, Sally. “He’d set his goal, and you could see it in the races: He was going to (achieve the goals he set).”
With two siblings swimming in college, some might assume that the Higgins children were born with chlorine in their veins, but Collin said he wasn’t unlike any other kid. He played baseball in the spring and swam in a neighborhood league during the summers.
But when he was 7 years old, he decided to follow his older brother, Charlie, and sister, Caroline, to SwimMAC, for more competition. But after a couple years, the intensity continued to build. And at one point, Higgins wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue to swim or if he wanted to give the dry-land activities another try. At the age of 10, Higgins already was practicing 11 or 12 times a week, and it was beginning to feel like a grind.
“I wasn’t into it,” he recalled. “My heart wasn’t there.”
It was the middle of the season and his mother was fine with his decision to try other things. It’s not as if Sally and her husband, John, had grown up as swimmers, so the pressure to stay in the pool wasn’t there.
But the pressure not to quit sure was.
I said, ‘You know what Collin? We’ve paid for the whole year, so you need to finish the whole year out,’” Sally recalled. “‘We’re not going to let you just quit. Then, if you don’t want to go back in the fall, that’s fine. You don’t have to go.’”
It’s a good thing his mother didn’t cave in to his request. That same summer, Higgins set a club record in his age group, which was just the boost he needed.
“That’s all it took,” Sally said. “After that, he was ready to go.”
His career took off.
“Each year, I got progressively a little better, so that motivation got me going,” noted Higgins. “There have been some down moments where getting up at 4:30 a.m. is pretty rough, but I think seeing where I came from to where I am now, that’s really gotten me where I am.”
But for all he’s accomplished in his career, this season will be a bit different for Higgins; for the first time in his life, he won’t have any siblings in the pool with him. Brother Charlie is a junior at Virginia Tech and sister Caroline also joined the Hokies this year.
Charlie was always the tough-love type, Higgins said. Charlie was the type of swimmer who’d remind his siblings about practice and pushed everyone else, to the point that Collin said his brother assumed a quasi-coaching role for the Hawks. Caroline was the opposite, more of a go-with-the-flow type.
“It was good having them around to know I wasn’t the only one in the household that had to get up that early,” Collin said with a chuckle.
But as for missing their presence at meets, it’s a temporary situation. Higgins recently signed to swim at Virginia Tech with Charlie and Caroline.
Higgins had other opportunities, but he chose the Hokies over North Carolina, Florida State, LSU and Louisville. Location and academic curriculum played a big part in Higgins’ decision, especially since he hopes to study engineering at Virginia Tech.
“I want to be close to where I can go home on the weekend but far enough to where my parents can’t pull any surprises,” he said, laughing.
But before then, Higgins said he and his Charlotte Latin teammates have a point to prove. Last season, despite Higgins’ record-breaking tim es, the Hawks finished third in the state behind Charlotte Country Day and Matthews Covenant Day.
Despite the success, Higgins isn’t cocky. In fact, he errs on the side of caution, even when it isn’t required. Almost apologetically, Higgins pointed to the fact that the Hawks had beaten Charlotte Country Day in both a dual-team meet and the conference meet heading into last year’s state championships. So, yes, the Hawks were expecting to win.
“We were really confident going into states,” he said. “We knew it would be close, but now I know you have to be ready for anything. You don’t know for sure what’s going to happen.”
As if he needed any more motivation, Higgins said he also wants to prove to Virginia Tech – and big brother Charlie – that the Hokies made the right choice by offering him a scholarship.
“Some seniors tend to slide, but I want to prove to (Virginia Tech) that I’m worth what they’ve offered me,” he said. “I’m trying to catch (Charlie) and hopefully I’ll be there beating him one day.”
“I don’t want to be one of those people that slips – I want to try to better myself,” he added.
And anything else simply won’t do, no matter how many records he breaks.