It’s hard to believe now, but Lainey Mullins wasn’t always a mermaid.
“At first, I hated the water,” she said.
That’s when Mullins was 4 years old and her mother enrolled her in swim lessons. And her mother made her stay with it, even though she hated it.
“She wanted me to be pool-safe,” Mullins said. “After lots of lessons, I got more comfortable and started to enjoy myself.”
That change in attitude was life-changing for Mullins, who is now one of the best high school swimmers in the state, even though she’s not even in high school yet.
Mullins is an eighth-grader at Tower Hill School, and at Saturday’s state championship meet at the University of Delaware she won two individual events, in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle, and was the anchor for two winning relays, in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle, which she won with teammates Sydney Aitken, Sydney DeBaecke and Kayley Knackste (DeBaecke also won the 100-yard backstroke). That helped the Hillers finish third in the state, behind Newark Charter and Padua.
From last place to 1st
That was the culmination of a special season for Tower Hill, which finished last in the Independent Conference last year and first in the conference this year. The Hillers finished the season ranked fourth in the state after winning eight of its 11 regular-season meets.
“Tower Hill swimming has taken a huge leap this year,” coach Sharon Reynolds said. “This is a team effort and Lainey plays a huge part.
Mullins broke the Tower Hill school records in 50-, 200- and 500-yard freestyle and was part of a team, along with Aitken, DeBaecke and Knackstedt, that set school and conference records in the 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle medley.
Mullins was already known in local swim circles because she excelled for her club team, the Suburban Seahawks, but even though Reynolds had heard of her, she still didn’t know what to expect from the 8th grader when the season began. But she found out quickly.
“She is a very talented swimmer, one of the best I’ve seen in high school swimming,” Reynolds said. “It’s fun to see here up against some of the boys on the team [in practice].
“Everyone is good at something,” Reynolds added, “and for Lainey, her natural talent is swimming.”
Swim practice isn’t always fun. The swimmers spend long hours in the pool, lap after lap after lap. They work on different strokes and that breaks up the monotony of practice, but it’s still a constant battle to improve your times, even if it’s just a nanosecond or two.
But, as Tower Hill discovered this season, the hard work and attention to detail pay dividends.
“Any practice is what you make of it and some days are easier than others,” Reynolds said. “Practicing with goals in mind make the process easier. It can be very much a mind game. Lainey has a very positive attitude to the process.”
Mullins said a camaraderie built up among the Tower Hill swimmers, and those friendships helped her deal with the drudgery of swimming endless laps at practice.
“My training buddies keep it fun,” she said. “We work hard, but we have a good time, too.”
Then Mullins added, “My coach reminds us that our hard work will eventually pay off.”
Some swimmers specialize in a specific event, and when she gets older, Mullins might have to do the same. But for now, she works hard to be an all-around swimmer who can help her team in several events.
And since she’s just an 8th grader, she can do it for a few more years. After that? Well, Mullins isn’t sure, but she plans on being in the pool for a long time to come.
“I want to continue swimming for my club and my school,” she said. “I will also continue traveling to different meets. Hopefully, I’ll be recruited college swimming – I’d like to be a teacher and a swim coach.”
Then Mullins let it be known that her ultimate goal reaches a little higher than that.
“The Olympics would be fabulous,” she said, “and representing my country would be a dream come true.”