Leah Pierce is getting a taste of world-class swimming competition this week at the U.S. national championships in Indianapolis.
Pierce, a former Rock Bridge standout and a member of the Columbia Swim Club, swam a personal best 1:10.87 Thursday morning in the preliminaries of the 100-meter breaststroke to advance to the finals of the event where she finished 16th Thursday night.
"She swam a great race," Columbia Swim Club coach Phil Garverick said by phone. "We're excited about the performance and it's a great way to start of the meet."
Pierce entered the meet, which started Tuesday and continues through Saturday, after surpassing the qualifying times of 1:12.29 in the 100-meter breaststroke and 2:35.29 in the 200-meter breaststroke while swimming for the University of Arkansas this past season. Pierce qualified for the NCAA swimming championships in the 200-meter breaststroke for the Razorbacks but did not advance to the finals.
Pierce, 21, has been swimming for 13 years and started competing for the Columbia Swim Club seven years ago when she moved to Columbia from Alton, Ill.
“Growing up you don’t get to go out on a Friday night when all your friends are, because you might have a meet or practice early the next morning,” Pierce said by phone. “But the best thing about CSC has been the amount of progress that is able to be made and the overwhelming support that is given by the coaches and parents.”
Garverick is quick to point out Pierce’s work ethic as a big reason for her success.
“It’s as good as it gets,” Garverick said. “You never have to question her, because she’s always going to giver her best effort regardless of how she’s feeling.”
Pierce has been going through a tough summer training regimen. She practices between and 4 and 4 1/2 hours a day, six days a week. Three of those days, she goes through what she calls “doubles,” which consist of 2 to 3 hours of running and weight training on top of swimming.
“It takes a lot of work and commitment, but you just have to be able to have fun with what you’re doing and be ready to work hard every day, and in the end it pays off,” Pierce said.
Pierce will finish this week's meet with the 200-meter breaststroke on Saturday. The top two finishers in the finals represent the USA in the World Championships in two weeks in Rome.
“It’s kind of the middle of the season, and this is a good meet to see where I’m at,” Pierce said. “It’s a lot of fun to be able to be here.”
Katherine Caldwell of the Columbia Swim Club also qualified for the U.S. national meet in 100-meter breaststroke, and though she made the trip, but is unable to compete because to injury.