She's Moving Along Swimmingly
A ringing alarm clock is not Bailey Bowden's favorite sound, even though the ringing gets her going early almost every day of her life.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays every week during the school year, her alarm rings at 4 a.m. at her home at Walden Lake, signifying the start of a busy schedule: Pull on a swim suit, grab a quick breakfast, drive 45 minutes to Riverhills swimming pool with friends Kelsey Fry and Parker Smith in Valrico, swim for an hour with her Tampa Bay Aquatics teammates, change into school clothes, drive to Plant City High, attend classes until almost 3 p.m., drive back to Riverhills for a three-hour practice, drive home, eat dinner, do homework, fall into bed.
Bowden, 16, smiles and chuckles and shrugs at the thought of it.
"I have a love-hate relationship with my schedule," she said. "But I love swimming, and I love the results. In the end, it's definitely worth it. Most definitely."
So far, so good.
As a sophomore last year, Bowden placed eighth at the Class 3A state meet in the 500 freestyle (5 minutes, 2.97 seconds) — a place and time that could drop significantly in the next few months.
"She has gotten better in every way," said Tampa Bay Aquatics coach Dave Gesacian, who works year-round with Bowden. "We've been working on her speed because we look at the distance events as a long sprint. I'd say she has the perfect makeup for (a distance swimmer)."
Apparently, it's in the genes. Bowden's cousin, Katie Bowden, was one of the best swimmers in Hillsborough County before graduating from Durant High in 2002 and heading off to a solid swimming career at the University of Nebraska.
"Seeing Katie's success inspired me," Bowden said. "I thought I'd like to do that."
Like Bailey, Katie was a distance specialist, breaking the five-minute mark in the 500 during high school. Bailey, however, may end up significantly faster than her cousin, possibly dropping her 500 time into the low 4:50 range before she's finished at Plant City.
One big difference between the cousins is the driving distance to practices. Katie swam for Durant and practiced in Brandon while Bailey is at Plant City high and drives all the way to Lithia for workouts.
"All my friends are at Plant City, and I didn't want to leave them," Bowden said. "I also love my coach and my club team."
Plus, Plant City isn't exactly a hotbed for developing state-champion-caliber swimmers, Bowden said.
The good news is that Bowden can now drive herself to practices, giving her mom, Leecy, a break from the 4 a.m. alarm and the drive to Valrico. For the past half year, Fry and Bowden have alternated driving duties, and Fry, who competes in the 50-, 100- and 200-free races, has also benefited from the regimen. Fry, a senior at Plant City High, who basically started as a novice swimmer a few years ago, has a chance to make the state meet this year.
For Bowden, who's been swimming since she was 6, it's one day at a time, each a step toward lowering her times, reaching Junior Olympic qualifying times in club meets and earning a college swimming scholarship.
"I've swam so long that I can't imagine not doing it," Bowden said. "It feels strange to miss one day.
"It's a part of me."