Claire Adams doesn’t see herself as any different from her teammates.
The only thing that sets her apart, in her eyes, is the fact that she’s on the USA Swimming National Team and they aren’t.
Other than that, they’re the ones who beat the 17-year-old old swimmer from Carmel Swim Club during practice, and they are the ones she spends hours with daily.
“I think she’s obviously humble and modest, and I would think she would call herself ‘one of the girls’ for sure,” said Chris Plumb, Adams’ coach. “But at the same time … I know there’s an inner fire below that, a competitive fire that comes out at meets.”
This spring, Adams graduated from Carmel High School and was honored as the top girls swimmer in the state in the 2015-2016 IndyStar Indiana Sports Awards. She is committed to swim at the University of Texas in the fall.
But before that, Adams is facing one of the biggest meets of her life.
She’ll race at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., from June 26 to July 3 for a chance to compete in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
These high-level meets aren’t new for Adams.
Adams first qualified for trials in 2012 in the 100 and 200 backstroke and didn’t do badly at all, considering it was her first big national meet and she was only 13. She tied for 33rd out of 163 swimmers in the 100 backstroke and placed 69th out of almost 200 swimmers in the 200 backstroke.
“When I went in 2012, it was more of a learning experience,” Adams said. “I had never even swam (at a big meet before) … Now that I know more of what to expect, I’d say I have a much different approach going in this year.”
Her confidence going into the meet is showing with the swims she’s been putting out this year. She’s seeded fourth right now, just tenths of a second behind backstroke veterans Natalie Coughlin and Missy Franklin.
“I think she’s got a really good shot,” Plumb said. “The challenge is just to execute what I know she’s capable of doing when that moment comes.”
The bigger the meet, Plumb said, the faster Adams swims.
Adams doesn’t want to get too optimistic about her odds of making the Olympic team. But she knows she has as good a chance as anyone else.
“If you have a lane, you have an opportunity,” Adams said. “I’m just going to go out and do my best, and hopefully that will be enough to make the team.”
Adams has been training hard with Carmel Swim Club to make sure she’s as prepared for the meet as possible. She and some teammates even traveled to Colorado Springs to train at the Olympic Training Center for a couple of weeks.
Up until trials, she’ll be with her team, never alone — just as she’s been taught growing up with the club.
Carmel has been a powerhouse when it comes to swimming. The girls’ high school team has won the state championship for the past 30 years straight.
“We really value … being better for the sport of swimming and not just being better athletes,” Adams said. “We learn to do things for others and not just for ourselves. We talk about being a triple-impact competitor — what are you doing to make your teammates, yourself and the sport better?”
That way of thinking seems to be working. Carmel Swim Club is tied with five other club teams for the second highest number of qualifiers for Olympic Trials under 17 years old, according to USA Swimming.
“I think every swimmer at some point has that Olympic dream, and this past summer for me was where it became more of a reality rather than just this idea,” Adams said. “I felt like I figured out myself and swimming and where I belonged on the national stage.”
IndyStar Pulliam Fellow Kara Berg is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.