By Lee Noles
Swimming has been Kaylee Hamblin’s passion since she was 8 years old, and her drive in the pool has resulted in numerous state titles, national rankings and a commitment to a Division 1 program.
But the biggest accolade in her young career occurred in January when the 16-year-old Union County resident qualified for the United States Olympic Team Trials in Nebraska. The meet decides which two swimmers in each event earn spots to represent the United States at the Olympics.
“It was very exciting,” Hamblin said of qualifying for the Olympic Trials. “When I looked up and saw I made the cut, someone took a picture of me and my jaw dropped. I was super excited it was hard to believe.”
Hamblin didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy her accomplishment because like much of the world, she’s had to put her life on hold after COVID-19 halted daily routines, introduced social distancing, and moved the trials she worked hard to reach to June 2021.
The International Olympic Committee followed suit by also pushing the Games in Tokyo to next year.
“When they said it was going to be pushed back, I was disappointed at first,” Hamblin said. “But now I realized I have a whole year to train for the Olympic Trials.”
COVID-19 has altered the way Hamblin trains as guidelines instituted by Gov. Roy Cooper in March closed many non-essential businesses and public establishments. Among the places adhering to the order was the Mecklenburg Swim Association where Hamblin practices.
Hamblin compensated by swimming in a neighbor’s pool a couple of times a week and ran sprints in her neighborhood. She continued to lift weights; a discipline started at Parkwood High where she is a junior.
“It was good to focus on getting stronger outside of the pool rather than just focusing on my technique,,” said Hamblin of finding new ways to train.
Hamblin said she recently started back swimming at MSA, but the practices have been modified with smaller groups and each swimmer staying six feet apart and swimming in their own lane.
Qualifying for the trials continued an unbelievable run in Hamblin’s swimming career. In addition to capturing her third consecutive state title for Parkwood in the breaststroke in February, she also verbally committed in October to swim at N.C. State University. The Wolfpack finished seventh at the NCAA championship in 2019.
“One thing that really stuck out when I went to N.C. State was that their team had a really good family bond. They support each other really well at meets and at practices,” said Hamblin, who is ranked fifth in the nation in the 100-meter breaststroke for her age group. “That was something that was really important to me when looking at colleges.”
Even though it has been difficult because of COVID-19, Hamblin is trying her best to focus on getting ready for the trials. Hamblin said she is going to take this year to continue lifting weights while also building her endurance in the pool so she can maintain her speed throughout her races.
“I will have more time to train because it was surreal to get the cut in January,” Hamblin said. “But to turn around and swim at the trials would have been a real quick turnaround. This will give me time to get ready both mentally and physically.”