Rachel Waite talks about becoming a MHSAA state swimming champion
The pool water at Eastern Michigan University has settled since Rachel Waite earned a prestigious Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 3 state swimming championship in November 2012, allowing the Tecumseh High School senior time to reflect on how she was able to accomplish what many only dream of.
It is virtually impossible to look at a young child and know if they have what it takes to become a champion in any sport. Years of growth, guidance and inspiration factor into the athlete’s capabilities and whether or not they will achieve greatness. A competitive spark must also take place to drive a person into wanting, needing, having to finish first. Looking at Rachel now, as a high school senior, one may still not be able to see the champion hidden inside — until she hits the water. She is a very polite, well-mannered, intelligent 17-year-old who turns into a fierce, confident competitor in any given pool.
Rachel said she was not a good swimmer at the very start as a nine-year-old girl in beginning swim lessons. After joining the Tecumseh Tigersharks swim club a little later, Rachel was always one of the last to finish a race but still she kept trying.
“It just wasn’t working for me,” she said of her early attempts at swimming.
She kept working at it, hard, and eight years later she became a state champion.
Her twin brothers, Andrew and Jarred, greatly influenced her ability and competitive drive from early on despite the two males being divers. The two practiced in the same pool as Rachel and when she was done with her workouts she’d hang out and continue swimming while they did their splashing around.
“My workout was done at 9 a.m., and theirs ran from about 9- to 10 a.m. so I would just stay and swim around putting in more time. It started to pay off,” she said.
As well, being the first-born child of the family, two years older than the boys, Rachel took being the eldest seriously and that thought process began creating the leader she is today.
“I always try to set the bar high for my brothers,” she said.
“I have a shelf in my room full of trophies. But it doesn’t just have swimming trophies on it. Just trophies in general.”
When prodded, Rachel explained she attends swimming meets outside of high school and has also competed in Taekwondo, attaining a first-degree black belt as a youth. “I think I have a dance trophy too,” she said with a chuckle.
Tecumseh swim coach Sarah Eubanks is another factor in Rachel’s process of becoming a state champion competitor. Eubanks has coached Rachel since she was that little slow girl in Tigersharks apparel.
Despite a few swim lessons with others early on, Rachel said, “It’s been Sarah all the way.”
Eubanks coached her in Tigersharks, middle school, high school and cheered Rachel on to a state championship in the 100 breaststroke her final season as a Tecumseh Indian.
From the age of nine to 12, Rachel specialized in the backstroke but changed to breaststroke for no particular reason that she can think of, other than Eubanks told her to. She worked mainly on the breaststroke and 200 IM (individual medley) during middle school.
In addition to winning a state title in the 100 breaststroke (1:05.48), Rachel placed third in the 200 IM (2:10.13). She is a three-time All-State swimmer in the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM, achieving the accomplishments in 2010, 2011 and 2012. She was also on the Indians’ 200 medley relay team, which reached All-State status the past three seasons.
Rachel was an All-SEC (Southeastern Conference) swimmer her entire high school career. She won the SEC championship in breaststroke four years in a row and also won the SEC championship in the 200 IM in 2010 and 2012.
She holds Tecumseh High School’s pool record in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.03) and the Indians’ varsity girls swim team records in the 100 breaststroke (1:05.48) and 200 IM (2:10.13) with her 2012 state final times.
Rachel was expected to be a top placer in the 100 breaststroke last year at the state meet and finished third but just knowing she had the chance at the title and let it slip away pushed her even harder.
“Just knowing I probably could have done it pushed me to where I had to do it,” she said.
She’ll be heading to Division one’s Oakland University after graduating from Tecumseh on a full scholarship to swim for the Grizzlies while studying for a nursing degree.
“I don’t know what made me a champion,” said Rachel. “Swimming, I just love it. And my parents [Jack and Joan] have always pushed me to do my best. With school, I’ve got to get good grades. And swimming, I just want to beat everyone else. I want to be good.”
She is reservedly proud of her accomplishment of attaining the state title and smiles at the thought she may be a possible role model for the kids who she now teaches swim lessons. Tecumseh’s swimming programs were on the verge of losing their home pool less than a year ago, however, a .25 mill ballot proposal passed in March that will help support the facility over the next five years. Within that same year, Rachel gave Tecumseh’s swim and dive program its eighth state championship title.
“There are so many more Tigersharks there who could some day be like me,” she said.
There are connections to Oakland University that may help Rachel feel comfortable about being with the Grizzlies. Her mother attended the university as did an aunt and Scott Yarbrough, another state champion 100 breaststroker (2008) from Tecumseh.
Rachel has definitely set the bar higher, not only for her brothers but at Tecumseh High School and has already set another goal in front of her for her collegiate career.
“I want to try and make it to the NCAA Championships for swimming, with an A standard time, which will be hard and take a lot of work,” she said. “But it’s something I want to do.”
Her goal may very well be attained. She cut approximately nine seconds off her best times when transitioning from middle school to high school. She’s hoping to do the same when going from high school to college, of course with a lot of time spent in the pool.
“It’s realistic, I think, because it’s only five or six seconds,” she said. “Maybe with training and all the time in the pool and all the workouts.”
Rachel is also incredibly smart, carrying a 4.0 Grade Point Average into college.
“With swimming and sports and all the meets I have to go to I have to organize my time and get things done.”
She has received Tecumseh High School’s Academic Excellence Award, has had several different departmental awards, been student of the month and was recently the Tecumseh Kiwanis senior of the month.
She will be studying to be a nurse anesthetist at Oakland University.
“I don’t know if that’s where it’s going to end up once I get there. I’ll just have to see,” she said of her working career.