At some point or another in most of our lives, many of us dream of one day competing in the Olympics. While most of our dreams are squashed after the first couple years of youth soccer league or Burgess gymnastics camp, there are a few who go on to stand out in their particular sport. Izzi Henig, a junior at M-A, is one of those people.
Henig, who is 16-years-old, has been swimming since she was four, when she joined her first swimming summer league team. And what prompted her to start swimming? Simply put, dolphin suits.
“The kids on the summer league teams had suits with dolphins on them, and when I was about three, I was like, ‘Mommy! I want a suit with a dolphin on it!’ And my mom said, ‘Well you have to join the team if you want the suit.’ And I’ve been swimming ever since.”
By the time Henig was in the fourth grade, she knew she wanted to take her swimming to the next level. While watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Henig was moved by the athletes’ unwavering dedication to their respective sports. During these Games, Michael Phelps became the first Olympic athlete to win eight gold medals. The day Phelps accomplished this feat, millions of Americans across the nation were inspired, one of them being Henig, who began to desire similar glory.
In order to be successful like the professionals she looked up to, Henig stepped up her training regimen, practicing upwards of four hours a day in order to be the best athlete possible. For her, a typical day involves an hour of “dry land” or conditioning and two hours of swimming in the afternoon, plus additional morning practices three times a week. Henig described the difficulty of balancing such a vigorous training regime with school work, noting “time management” as a stressor.
Henig does not consider all the choices she makes as sacrifices. Her main goal is to be the best swimmer possible, even if that means rearranging her priorities. At one instance of her life, Henig described choosing between a training trip to Colorado Springs and a trip to the Caribbean with her family, and ultimately chose training. While this was an instance where Henig “put swimming above family,” she did not regret her decision, for she learned a lot during the training trip.
Summarily, all her hard work throughout the years paid off. At a sectionals swim meet at Texas A&M in the beginning of 2015, Henig qualified for the 50-yard freestyle and the 200-yard individual medley races in the Olympic Trials.
“My coach told me ‘Get out there, do your best. Don’t worry about qualifying, but race your hardest.’ And I made [the Olympic Trials], which is insane.”
Right after the 50-yard freestyle race, Henig looked up at the board, saw her time, and automatically knew she had qualified. Henig described looking up at her coach, whom she has been with for a year and a half, and just feeling amazing. She jumped out of the pool, and was immediately surrounded by other swimmers and coaches.
While her family was not in Texas at the time of her qualifications, they called her later that night to congratulate her, and offered her nothing but their love and support.
In June of 2016, Henig first walked into the arena in Omaha, Nebraska, where she would go on to compete in the 50- yard freestyle. “Oh my gosh, this is huge!” was the first thought Henig had after first entering the arena. Luckily for Henig, she did not race until the second week of the trials, and had a decent amount of time to adapt to the the sheer size of the stadium, which holds nearly 75,000 people.
Regardless of her effort to remain calm and focused, Henig still felt the intensity of the situation. Her pre-game ritual, which includes listening to music a few hours before her race, making friends with other swimmers, and being surrounded by friends, is what helps remove her stress before a big event. For her, “joking around and being relaxed” are the keys to swimming a fast race.
Henig explained that the coolest part was seeing famous athletes she has looked up to for years a mere few feet away from her. “I almost walked into Alison Schmidt… and in the warm up pool, I was actually swimming pretty slowly, and I stopped on the wall and finished and saw Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte right behind me.”
When it came time for Henig to race, she definitely felt the pressure.
She stepped up on her block, set her feet, and then…flinched.
“I knew I had done it as soon as it happened, I knew it was big… I was like…I just got to take it as it comes.” Henig then dove into the water, and began her race with a reaction time slightly slower than her average. She describes everything- her dive, her stroke, her time- as “fine” but knew in her head that she had messed up.
A flinch is an automatic disqualification, and while Henig was able to swim a decent time, she had to go through with the race knowing she would not move on to the Olympics. While Henig does not deny the fact that she had to spend some time sulking in the warm-up pool after the race, it is clear that she is already ready for a next shot at Olympic glory.
Her biggest takeaway, you might ask? “Don’t false start?” We both laughed at that one. “Rely on your teammates, rely on your family. You aren’t carrying a village, but you are supported by one… I was just happy to be there… I had made it [to the trials] and that was what mattered.”
Henig is back in the pool and focusing on how she can now better her techniques in order to prevent another incident like this from happening. Her future goals include swimming at the Division I level in college, becoming a champion in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), competing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and eliminating much of the prejudice held against female athletes.
“[The media’s portrayal of female athletes] really concerns me, actually. People will be reporting on these athletes and you just want to yell at the journalist, ‘They’re better than you in every way… and you’re pointing out the fact that her outfit didn’t match!’ I mean, really,” stated Henig.
For now, Henig can be found in the pool down in Fremont Hills, walking along the halls of M-A with the AP Biology textbook in hand, or spending time with her friends and family.