Leah Hayes’ swimming resume spans pages and pages.
It already includes competing at the Olympic Trials, being a two-event IHSA swim champion and numerous national age group records in multiple events.
Hayes, a Kaneland High School junior, now can add setting a new junior world record to the top of the list.
That is, until the next challenge – perhaps an Olympic bid – is attained.
In the 200 IM finals at the 19th FINA World Championships hosted in Budapest, Hungary, in late June, Hayes placed third for a bronze medal. In the process, Hayes’ 2:08.81 time bested China swimmer Yu Yiting’s mark of 2:09.57 that she set at the Olympics last year.
“It is definitely one of my highest [accomplishments],” Hayes said. “In terms of swimming, it is my highest. I’d been looking at that record for awhile now. For a short period of time, I didn’t believe that I would be able to get it. But over time with training and practice, I felt more confident about it. I really had my eyes on it.”
Considering her accomplishments in high school – winning state titles in the 200 IM and 100 freestyle – and international competition, Hayes is the 2022 Kane County Chronicle Female Athlete of the Year.
Hayes swam only the 200 IM at the World Championships. She said she was OK with swimming only one event.
“It was truly emotionally draining and mentally draining as well,” Hayes said. “[The atmosphere was] surreal and incredible. I’ve never seen so much technology around a pool and inside the pool as well. There were cameras everywhere.
“Once we arrived, it was a little shocking. I’m glad we arrived early because it gave me time to settle in and adjust to everything in the area.”
Hayes, named the SportsKid of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2018, trailed only Olympic silver medalist and Team USA teammate Alex Walsh and Australia’s Kaylee McKeown.
“When I saw [Leah] got third and beat the 2:09 barrier at such a young age, she’s on a really great path,” Walsh told the official Team USA swimming website.
That path included overcoming a stress fracture in her left foot, which Hayes discovered a week before international team trials in April.
“I was put in a boot, which luckily whenever I swam, it did not hurt me,” Hayes said. “But walking was a little bit [painful] and any other activity. Luckily, it did not take me out of the water.
“I became a little doubtful [about being healthy enough to compete]. Once my doctor told me I was able to compete, I knew that it was not going to stop me. I was going to give it my all regardless.”
Hayes blazed to a second-place finish in a blistering 2:09.99 and secured her spot for Worlds.
“With my seeds prior to the competition, it was not anticipated that I was to make the international team,” Hayes said.
Source: The Daily Chronicle