Lake Wales High School Sophomore Wins State Swimming Championship
by James Coulter
Mary Leigh Hardman, 16, has been swimming ever since she could first remember. Her mother, an Olympic-calibercompetitive swimmer, inspired her to go for the gold. Now this 16-year-old sophomore from Lake Wales High School has won the state championship for two consecutive years.
Mary Leigh returned home after winning first place at the state swimming championship at the Sail Fish Water Park in Stuart, FL. She had been participating in the championship for the past two years. Her freshmen year, she won both the 50 Freestyle and 100 Freestyle. This year, she won the 50 by .01 second but lost the 100 by .1 second.
“I had pretty high expectations, and that was that,” she said. “It went pretty well.”
Mary Leigh first learned to swim at age five and has been competing year-round ever since. She was inspired by her mother, Molly Hardman, who won the state championship her senior year in 1988, swam at Clemson University and the University of Florida, and even participated in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic trials.
“She got me interested at a young age,” Mary Leigh said. “Ever since I started swimming, I took it seriously. When you are a kid, you [are not] necessarily taking things very seriously in general. But I see improvement around 11 or 12. At that point, I just really saw a lot of improvement in my swimming.”
Her mother, Molly, owes her success to striking a balance between school and swimming. Mary Leigh works hard at what she does. While she may not appear so in her everyday demeanor, she remains competitive with her nose to the grind; and even when she loses, she remains gracious about her losses and gracious for the success of others, Mary said.
“You will be the most successful happy athlete if you strike the balance and so she does and it is so fun to see her do so well,” Molly said. “She knows how to, when it is important, she knows how to step up onto the block and rise to the occasion. She is a strong competitor. You would never know talking to her, because that is not the demeanor that she lives and it is not her personality, but when she gets on the block, it is all her business.”
Aside from her school’s swim team, she is a club swimmer who attends a separate swim club. Practicing year-round allows her to maintain her athletic prowess, which peaks around springtime and especially around the time of the annual state championship.
She owes her success to her fellow teammates and her school and club coaches. The support and encouragement she receives from them inspires her to keep moving forward and to improve her game. Her school has especially proven supportive in her athletic endeavors.
“I have been working and toiling with my high school team for a few months, trying to work myself up to that season,” she said. ” They are phenomenal. Everyone is supporting me in everything. My high school is very supportive of my accomplishments. Every time I would win something or do well, they would announce it on the announcements. So, I think that is very nice and encouraging of them.”
Her mother has high expectations of her moving forward. Mary Leigh already had surprising success with her competition last year, and that surprise motivated her to keep up her good work in this year’s event and in future endeavors.
“I would say having the experience of her winning her freshman year, and being completely surprised she did that, she had experience going into this year’s state meet and what it takes to win again, so I will attribute it to her work ethic and competitive nature, just really wanting to do her best,” Molly said.
Mary Leigh expects to continue competing in the state swimming championship well through high school. She expects to continue swimming in college, though she remains undecided at this moment what her college plans will be. Until then, she plans on keeping her nose to the water and striving to go for the gold.
“Whatever happens will happen,” she said. “I will try my best and no matter what if I try my hardest then that is the best I can do. I love to win again, but it is always nice to give someone else a chance to see what happens. It would be great to win it again.”