Emma Reaney: The Best is Yet to Come
By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Emma Reaney admits she doesn’t have many pre-race rituals, but she does have one that she has to do – without fail – if her dad, Mark, is in the stands watching.
“I have to look up and give my dad two fist bumps in the air before every race that he is there to watch,” said Reaney, who started swimming 12 years ago at the urging of her parents. She loved it immediately and loves it even more today. “We've done that before my meets since I was little, and it calms me down to know he's always there.”
Two weeks ago at NCAA Championships – dad in the stands and all – Reaney made those fist bumps count when she won her first NCAA title in the 200 breaststroke in American-, U.S. Open- and NCAA-record time – breaking her own records she set a week earlier. It was also Notre Dame’s first women’s national title in the school’s history of the sport.
Having already set records at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championships, Reaney said when she took to the blocks for the finals at NCAAs, she felt confident and calm.
She knew it was her race to lose – and she led from start to finish to prove her previous records and results were no fluke.
“To be honest, I felt a little off (at NCAAs),” Reaney said. “The conference meet was a week earlier than I'm used to, so the whole ‘retrain then re-taper’ process was a little longer than I've done in the past. My body felt pretty weird leading up to the meet, but I just had to remind myself that (coach) Brian (Barnes) knows what he's doing and that I'd be fine.
“I didn't focus much on the hype of the 200 breast ‘showdown.’ I love that event and just wanted to show people what I was capable of, no matter who was next to me. I had a feeling I could do it, and yes it was my ultimate goal. Right before the race, I felt a bizarre sense of calm and excitement as opposed to nerves, so I knew I was ready.”
Reaney’s NCAA title and records were a long time coming. A junior at Notre Dame, it was just a short few years ago when she came to South Bend hoping for some best times – and that was enough.
But something changed in her approach to and perspective about swimming along the way.
“Over the past two and a half years, I've continually set my goals higher and higher,” Reaney said. “So beginning-of-junior-year Emma isn't too surprised with the end of this season. I had my sights on an NCAA championship since day 1 of this year.
“I definitely feel like I’m just now hitting my stride. I'm starting to get my races down to a science and knowing exactly what I have to hone in on in order to do my best. Having three years of college training, nutrition, and atmosphere under my belt is also a huge confidence boost. I finally feel like I really know what I'm doing.”
Reaney said her journey to becoming Notre Dame’s first female NCAA swim champion found its roots almost two years ago at Olympic Swim Trials.
That meet, where she swam personal best times and finished 13th in the 200 individual medley, showed her that she belongs among the best swimmers in the nation. It also sparked a belief that she can hold her own against the best in the world.
She said working with Barnes – including lifting weights in college for the first time in her swim career – not only made her better and stronger, but it ultimately made her faster.
But Reaney said it doesn’t begin and end there.
“Brian, the whole coaching staff and my great team are the sole reasons for my improvement here,” said Reaney, a graphic design major with a business economics minor. “I put all of my trust into them when I first got here, and his plans for the team and me were lofty from the beginning.
“My training here is pretty much entirely different from what I was doing in high school, which I think is really good for me since I was in a bit of a rut back then.”
And while she had a great U.S. Open meet last summer (second in the 100 breaststroke, third in the 200, earning spots on the U.S. National team), her results at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships and World Championship Trials weren’t what she wanted.
She left Indianapolis with a top 11 finish in the 100 breast, but didn’t make the top 16 in her signature 200 breaststroke event – but there were some circumstances outside of her control that prevented her from swimming her best.
“I had just gotten to campus for summer school about a week prior (to Nationals) and wasn't training very hard before then,” Reaney said. “I trained the next month and a half, swimming once a day and lifting four times a week to get ready for the U.S. Open with the goal of making the National Team. I love Irvine and getting to hang out with my teammates, coach, and mom in the SoCal sunshine put me in the best mood which is when I swim my best.”
And while she is enjoying her breakthrough year, Reaney knows she still has room for improvement – particularly in the details of her races.
She said she knows she can be much faster coming into and out of her turns and can learn to hold her breath a little better – small but significant things she will pay extra attention to every day in practice to add up to a great race.
And summer 2014 and beyond.
“What motivates me is having fun; if I'm not enjoying something, I won't put my whole heart into it,” said Reaney, who said she is passionate about film and digital photography as a hobby and is a self-described ‘nail polish addict.’ “When I have a passion for something and a goal behind it, it's hard for me to let it go.
“I love swimming, and I love life so it works out pretty well. My parents motivate me a lot as well, because they have done so much for me, and I want to show them what all their hard work and sacrifices haven't been for nothing.”