The Finishing Touch
A graduate of the Club’s Mudsharks swim program shares her story of battling her way back to a national title.
Perched on the starting block, Member Ariana Hill knew she was the favorite.
“Swimmers, on your marks. Get set.”
She’d entered her first heat of New Zealand’s national championships with the best qualifying time of any 13-year-old swimmer in the 50-meter breaststroke.
But nerves got the better of her.
“To false-start in anything is the worst way to be disqualified,” Ariana says. “I was so upset about that.”
Ariana knew how hard she’d worked to make it to the five-day meet in Wellington. Four years prior, she’d started practicing with coach Simon Hadlow and the Club’s Mudsharks swim team. Through grueling Sky Pool sessions, guidance and a growing sense of confidence, Ariana worked herself into the competition with New Zealand’s top 13-year-old swimmers.
At least now Ariana could draw on the sage words of an experienced coach.
“You’ve got to go forward,” the Australian would’ve urged Ariana. “You can’t change it now. Collect your thoughts, get yourself back together and step up again.”
Ariana’s mom, Kellie Fitzmaurice, knew early on that Hadlow could provide her daughter with the necessary encouragement.
“As parents, we’ve gone to coaches in the past and said, ‘Our kid just needs to have her eyes opened to what she can achieve,’” says Fitzmaurice.
Though Ariana has since switched swim teams, Hadlow’s lessons remained with the young sprinter. On the second day of the tournament, she qualified for the finals in the 200-meter breaststroke and 50-meter freestyle. On the third, her team won the 400-meter freestyle relay.
The next day, four hours after winning a preliminary heat, Ariana climbed the starting block again for the 100-meter breaststroke finals.
“There was a small part of me that was, like, ‘Yes, Ariana, you’ve definitely got this,” she says. “But the rest of me was, like, ‘You can’t be blasé about it.’”
Up in the stands, surrounded by family, it was all her mother could do to keep her eyes on the pool.
“Initially, I felt like throwing up,” Fitzmaurice says. “After the DQ in the [50-meter breaststroke], we were just hoping she made it into the water.”
The starter’s gun fired. Ariana’s dive was clean. She swam a strong first length, but she had to nail her turn.
“We were watching her with bated breath as she reached the wall,” her mother says. “We were slapping each other and going, ‘She could do this! She could have this!’”
Every time she came up for a breath on the second length, Ariana heard the roar of the crowd. With a handful of strokes to go, she pushed hard.
“I touched as fast as I could thinking that someone was going to beat me to the finish,” Ariana recalls. “Then I look around and everyone’s two seconds behind me.”
Days after a disqualification that might have derailed her younger self, Ariana swam a new personal best to win a national title.
“She touched like her life depended on it,” her mom says. “Simon would love her to touch like that every single time.”
Registration for the Sky Pool’s kids’ summer swim program starts on June 17.
Words: Owen Ziegler
Image: Enrique Balducci