Her grip wasn’t all that tight. Despite the other activities going on, all the 5-year-old girl could see was the beautiful blue, clear water calling out to her. Three. Two. One. The girl let go of her mother’s hand and sprinted toward the pool, undeterred by the fact that she didn’t know how to swim.
Meet Hailey Campbell.
“She couldn’t take her eyes off me or I’d be in the water and didn’t even know how to swim,” said Campbell, senior backstroke swimmer for BYU. “Talk about terrifying for my mom!”
Though her mom was able to stop Campbell before she made it into the water that time, she wouldn’t be able to keep her out for long. From always being in water as a child to beginnings in summer league at 8 years old, to Olympic Trials in college, Campbell lives to be in the water.
The senior member of the BYU women’s swim and dive team not only loves being in the water, but she is fast too. At this year’s conference championship meet, Campbell claimed her third straight first-place win in both 100 and 200 backstroke races. She recorded or contributed to at least 10 first-place finishes so far this year and awaits an invite to the NCAA championship meet March 20–22.
“She’s been unbelievably reliable,” said John Brooks, head coach of the swim team. “She is one of the fastest backstroke swimmers to ever swim at BYU.”
Campbell’s parents tried putting her in several different sports at a young age, but her love of the water made swimming stick. Competitive summer leagues continued through the years until high school, where she and her parents realized she could swim in college on scholarship.
“We didn’t realize that we would get her into swimming competitively,” Campbell’s mother said. “She’s just always been on a team ever since.”
During high school, Campbell discovered role models like Olympian backstroke swimmer Natalie Coughlin, who shaped the girl’s love of swimming into a competitive goal to follow in her footsteps.
“I thought of Olympic trials and decided that was what I wanted to do with my life: go to Olympic Trials,” Campbell said.
Her brushes with the Olympics began earlier than she thought when at 17, she swam against Coughlin in an Atlanta meet.
In her home summer league, Campbell also trained with Rachel Bootsma, Olympic gold medalist swimmer for the U.S. in 2012. After being recruited to Penn State and swimming there for a year, Campbell decided the program there wasn’t a good match and transferred to BYU. In her sophomore year, she realized her dream of qualifying for the 2012 Olympic trials.
Though she has experienced many achievements in her three-year career at BYU, Campbell cites the ability to help others grow and improve in swimming as her greatest achievement.
“It’s nice to have everyone sitting there telling you, ‘Come on, you got it,'” Campbell said. “Taking what I do every day in my life and teaching other people how to do it has been my biggest achievement, I think.”
This desire and ability to help others excel is exemplified through her teaching swimming during the summer and being an example to her teammates.
“She’s really consistent in working really hard every day,” said Kim Doroghian, a senior butterfly swimmer and team captain. “It’s nice to have someone you can count on, and she’s really reliable.”
Campbell understands that athletes can face many obstacles and challenges, to which she is no stranger. Injuries can leave an athlete frustrated and burned out. Campbell sprained her ankles nine times, including three times this year. She explained that swimmers often worry about hitting their peak and getting burned out early on, which can be brought on by a couple bad practices or races.
“Throughout swimming, one of the obstacles I’ve faced has been motivation,” Campbell said. “You have a couple bad practices, and you wonder if you hit your peak; then your motivation falls.”
Though she has faced disappointments along the way, Campbell always had support and encouragement from her family.
“I would call my parents, and they’d remind me that you’re always going to have a bad practice,” Campbell said. “They always pushed me but never lost confidence in me.”
Though her immediate family lives in Minnesota, they continue to support her in many ways, including pre-race texts from Campbell’s sister to prepare her for the race. Since her transfer from Penn State to BYU, Campbell has also had a great network of extended family in Utah who comes to her meets and cheer her on. This support helps her to pursue her love of swimming competitively.
“It’s about seeing what you can push yourself to do,” Campbell said. “Sometimes you don’t even know how your body is doing it, but it’s a good feeling.”
Campbell has had many opportunities to succeed, struggle, help others and learn about herself through swimming. Though the motivations behind her swimming have changed and developed over the years, one thing can be sure: she will never lose that impulse to jump in the water when she sees a pool.