All-American duo completed their fourth and final trip to the national competition in March
The Ursinus College Women’s Swim Team has been the overlord of the Centennial Conference for over half a decade now.
The Bears have not lost a meet within the CC in over five seasons, and won their sixth consecutive conference championship this February.
It takes a full team of competent swimmers to have that level of team success, but Ursinus has been fortunate enough to have several standout swimmers over the years, as well. Two of the greatest performers in the history of the women’s swim team wrapped up their careers at Ursinus this semester and will graduate next month. Their names are Peyten Lyons and Clara Baker.
These two women are currently the first- and second-place record holders in All-America honors, with 19 honors between the two of them. Lyons and Baker have 24 and 21 conference championship gold medals apiece, with four individual program records. Lyons was a member of all five current relay event records, with Baker a member of four of those as well.
Because of such accomplishments, both qualified for the national level of competition all four seasons at Ursinus. Baker said, “Something that I always feel to be special at nationals is looking around and knowing that I am surrounded by athletes that have worked just as hard as me up to this point. It is a unifying and humbling experience. I love watching all the fast swimming, and feel honored to have been a part of it.”
Being part of such elite teams during their reign at Ursinus, moving on to the national level each season was a big jump in the levels of competition for the Bears, relative to their regular season and conference-level competition.
Baker described the challenge that can come with such a high-level of competition.
“I have learned that nothing comes easy. At a meet like nationals, everyone has highs and lows; it is the nature of the sport that not every swim is going to be your fastest. But I learned how to come back from the disappointing swims, keep up a positive attitude, and trust that my training was enough to get me to where I needed to be,” Baker said.
Lyons echoed how difficult it can be and explains that it is a tough adjustment when you are used to winning fairly easily and then not having success when facing swimmers as good as you are. She learned to not worry as much about the results when facing such elite competition.
“I think what I learned from competing there was to just have fun and enjoy the experience and whatever happens happens,” Lyons said.
Being able to attend each year was an honor in itself, and the women used it as motivation during the preseason and regular season, when the workload ahead may seem daunting. “[Going to nationals] is always a motivator. Thinking about my competition in the off season helps me get to the gym. It makes me push in the pool when I feel like giving up.
I wanted to become top 8 in the 100 fly, and envisioning myself in that position throughout the season definitely helped me achieve that goal, because I worked like I was already there,” Baker said.
Lyons said, “I think each year I was more and more motivated to qualify. Since our season is so long and grueling I think having that goal in the back of my head at all times really kept me focused to push harder at the times I was lacking the motivation to do so.”
Each year, the NCAA national competition has been in a different location, so Baker and Lyons were able to travel all over the country because of their swimming careers, including stops in Dallas, Texas, Indianapolis, Ind., and Greensboro, N.C. this past season.
Not all of the trips were necessarily the same because of the change in location, but also because of the different teammates they were able to go with to nationals.
Lyons said, “Each year Clara and I were able to go with different people which made each experience unique and different. We were also able to travel to three different natatoriums each year which was fun.”
Baker echoed, “The group of girls varied from year to year, as we lost seniors and gained freshmen. Each time it was a different experience due to whether relays made it or not, where it was located, and how prepared we felt. I have memories from each of the years and they were always a highlight of my season.”
This year, though, was also unique because it was the last time these two were able to swim on a competitive level. The two outlined their feelings coming out of the pool for the last time as competitors.
Lyons said, “After that last relay I was very overwhelmed with emotion because this sport has been such a big part of my life for so long and within seconds it was all over, but looking back on my swimming career over the years I can say that I will be leaving this sport with no regrets.”
Baker agreed that it will be hard to find something to replace her time, but is excited to find out what that will be.
“It was definitely a bittersweet feeling, especially because I am fortunate enough to say that I didn’t experience burnout. Swimming has basically been my life for the last 10 years and watching it come to a close was a little painful. I know that I will find other things to take up my time, but swimming and the butterfly will always hold a special place in my heart,” Baker said.
The two said that they are going to miss being part of a team more than anything else, along with missing the sport itself.
“I honestly just have a big love for the sport. I developed a competitive edge young, and racing was always so much fun for me. Working out for two hours a day without thinking about anything else was a huge stress reliever. Also, always being surrounded by teammates for support both in and out of the pool are likely to leave a hole in my heart,” Baker said.
Lyons said, “I think what I’m going to miss most about swimming is the team. For 7 months out of the year, every day we [would] push ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally, but we all do it together and that is something that brings everyone on of this team closer together. The friendships and memories that were made because of this sport is something I will be forever grateful for.”
The two both plan to take a break from the sport for a little bit after a decade of competing, but will take away many lessons from their time as athletes.
Baker said, “I am planning to take time off. I am lifting in the gym again, because you’ve always got to get that exercise in! But for now, swimming will be on hold. I know one day I will get back into it, because I can’t imagine straying too far.”
Lyons agreed, “I know I really want to stay involved with the sport some way or another, but for right now it feels good to step away and really reflect. . . If you dedicate time and effort to something that is really important in your life you will be successful no matter what it is.”
Ultimately, these two feel that swimming has been a big part of who they are, and will certainly miss it.
Baker said, “It has shaped me into the strong, dedicated, empowered woman I am today. I will always look back on my memories of swimming with fondness and appreciation. Finding this sport is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I will use what it taught me every day.”