The moment that Abigail Roberts touched the wall in her 50 yard freestyle relay, the explosion of applause and excited screaming was all she needed to hear to realize she had finally broken her school’s 50 yard freestyle record.
“It was just insane,” says Roberts, a junior at LaPorte High School. “I just touched the wall and heard everyone scream, so before I even had the chance to look up at the time, I just knew.”
Roberts says that she immediately broke down crying in the water; it was an emotional moment for her, not just because she had been chasing that record for her entire high school swimming career, or because the record itself was over three decades old. The real reason the moment carried such an emotional weight would have been immediately clear to those in the bleachers, though, as they watched Roberts climb out of the pool to run and hug the person had been holding that record for so long: Abigail’s mom.
“How many people get to say they held a record for thirty years, and then their daughter is the one who comes along and breaks it,” says Abigail’s mother, Hope Harris. “It’s like I’m passing a torch, and how cool if she holds it for thirty years.”
As the two embraced each other along the edge of the pool, the relay continued just feet away, and they cried together in mixed feelings of joy, fatigue, and accomplishment. And no, parents aren’t normally allowed beyond the bleachers and onto the pool floor, but Hope Harris isn’t just Abigail’s mom; she’s also one of her swim coaches at Laporte High School.
“At that moment, when she hit that wall, I was one-hundred precent Mom,” says Harris, who was momentarily torn between continuing to coach the next swimmer in the pool and celebrating with her daughter. “But I realized that this moment was only going to happen one time, so at that moment I just cried with her.”
Harris has been coaching her daughter in swimming since Roberts was just eight years old, stretching all the way back to when the two would race each other through the clear waters of Pine Lake many summers ago. It’s a uniquely close mother-daughter relationship that this record-breaking duo share in, one that has pushed Roberts all her life to work harder and fulfill her own future in the sport.
“I’ve been joking about beating that record since I first started swimming with the Duneland Swim Club,” says Roberts. “We didn’t even live in LaPorte at that time, but I would always tell my mom ‘I’m going to be faster than you someday.’”
Yet, despite their similarities in sport and competitive prowess, Harris’ history with swimming isn’t as all-encompassing as her daughter’s. For Roberts, swimming was something that she was practically born into: her mom swims, her dad swims, her cousins swim, and the trend continues throughout the family.
Harris, on the other hand, didn’t pick up swimming until she was thirteen years old, which makes her swimming career at LaPorte High School all the more impressive - especially considering that she set the school’s 50 yard freestyle record when she was only a freshman.
“Kids didn’t train back then the way they train now,” says Harris. “It’s crazy that my record lasted as long as it did.”
Roberts' opportunity to finally surpass her mother and hit that milestone during this year’s sectional didn’t come easily, though, as she actually missed her first chance early on in the meet. In the 50 yard freestyle, Roberts finished fourth, and undershot the school record by just three-tenths of a second.
For those who know Roberts, though, they are all too familiar with her drive and competitive spirit. There’s an energy about her that makes it almost impossible for her to lose hope, and after the race she knew that she could still snatch the record in the next event - the freestyle relay.
In fact, just moments before the relay was about to begin, Roberts approached a Chesterton High School swimmer who had beaten her in an earlier race, and who would now be competing against Roberts once more. Yet, Roberts' motivation wasn’t to talk smack or intimidate her opponent, but instead to encourage the Chesterton athlete to push herself and swim as fast as she possibly could.
“I told her what I wanted to do, to get my school’s record, and I basically said that if she could go really fast that would be awesome,” says Roberts. “I needed something to go after.”
Apparently, her tactic worked - in the middle of that race, as all of the swimmers cut through the water between each powerful stroke and quick breath, there was a moment that Roberts knew that the record was within reach.
“In the flip-turn after the first 25 yards, we made eye contact and I was right with her,” says Roberts. “So coming off of that, I just put my head down and powered to the wall, and that was kind of the moment I knew that it was actually happening.”
Both Roberts and her mom say that the subsequent support from the community has been incredible. The photo capturing the mother-daughter duo’s embrace just seconds after Roberts hopped out of the pool as a newly-made record-holder has been liked hundreds of times on Facebook, and was even shared on the high school’s Twitter page in a heavily retweeted post.
Yet, despite the community’s ongoing praise, such a tremendous moment of achievement is but a mere glimpse into the lives of groundbreaking athletes like Roberts, particularly when considering the sometimes egregious amount of hours that go into becoming such a high-level competitor.
Roberts’ workout routine this season included a 5:30 A.M. practice three days a week, on top of two-and-a-half hour practices every day after school. That’s not to mention weekend practices, and the amount of extra time she spent (and will spend) with weights in the gym during the offseason.
“Over Christmas break they were in the pool five hours a day,” adds Harris. “They did two hours in the morning, then three hours in the afternoon.”
Fittingly, the athletes have dubbed the Christmas break workout routine “Hell Week.” While such vigorous training schedules certainly aren’t unique to the Laporte High School swim program, an aspect of Roberts' swim training that most athletes don’t know is sharing that experience with their mom on an up-close, day-to-day basis.
Though they both agree that it’s not always easy to separate the line between their mother-daughter and coach-athlete relationship, Roberts is adamant that her mom’s commitment to being her lifelong swim coach has helped them to grow incredibly close, and has offered them each a more complete understanding of the other’s thoughts and perspectives.
“She knows what I’m going through, because she’s been through it, and she knows what it’s like,” says Roberts. “I probably couldn’t have done it without my mom coaching me, but the one thing she’s always taught me is to just be myself and be the best person I can be.”
Going forward into her final year at LaPorte and looking to the future, Roberts isn’t sure what she wants to do in college, and that’s understandable considering her many interests and involvements. Besides swimming, Roberts is also part of almost a dozen clubs at LaPorte High School, is involved with community leadership programs, is a straight-A student, plays the violin, and is a competitive dancer all at the same time.
For her mom, though, there isn’t as much of a concern regarding what she’ll do, as there is to making sure Roberts keeps enjoying herself in the moment.
“Sometimes I’m worried she’s almost too driven, and that she’s going to miss out on life,” says Harris. “Swim, dance, or just being a kid, I just want her to do what’s right for her, and what makes her happy.”