The 500-yard freestyle is usually a test of endurance for swimmers. Katy Campbell, who just finished her junior season with La Cañada High, refers to it as her "sprint event."
Campbell swims the mile with her club team, Swim Pasadena, which is based out of Pasadena City College. The 500 freestyle will always hold a special place in her heart, though.
"I always talk about the 500 as kind of my baby in a way," Campbell said. "It's what I first won CIF in and I've won it ever since freshman year."
Campbell came into her junior campaign looking to win the 500 at the CIF Southern Section Division finals for the third year in a row. She knew that wouldn't be easy, though, after La Cañada was bumped up from CIF Southern Section Division II to Division I this year.
"I really wanted to win CIF Division I [in the 500] and I knew all the girls I was racing were amazing athletes," Campbell said. "I knew that's what I needed to work on in my high school meets and to improve and get faster."
Campbell kept carving her niche in the 500 freestyle deeper and deeper this year. She didn't just win the Division I title in the event this year at the Belmont Plaza Pool in Long Beach, she won it with relative comfort. Her time of 4 minutes 43.04 seconds was more than two seconds faster than the second-place finisher. She also took third in the 200 freestyle that day with a time of 1:49.07.
As if her season wasn't impressive enough, Campbell went on to win the 200- (1:48.66) and 500 freestyle (4:46.05) races in the CIF Masters Meet, which was held at the William Woollett Aquatic Center in Irvine.
Tiffany Quash, first year coach of the girls' swimming team at La Cañada, was impressed by Campbell's ability to excel in two such different events.
"For someone to go out and sprint the 200 and come back and win the 500, an endurance event, is not common," Quash said. "The only thing they have in common is they're both freestyles."
Thus, Campbell's incredible junior season earned her the title of the 2011 All-Area Girls' Swimmer of the Year by the sports editors and writers of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun.
The groundwork for Campbell's success in the pool has been laid out by her whole family. Her mom used to swim, her dad played water polo and her brother, Alex Campbell, was a standout swimmer at La Cañada. He won the boys' 100-yard freestyle at the CIF Southern Section Division II championships last year.
"Everyone in [Campbell's] family swims, so she grew up in that kind of a household," Quash said. "The Campbell family all loves the sport and they all support each other."
The family tradition doesn't end with Campbell, either. Samantha Campbell, her sister, just finished her freshman year at La Cañada High and with the swim team. There's one more future Spartan, Christina Campbell, that's soon to join the ranks, too.
"Swimming has always been a family sport for us," Campbell said. "We all go to each other's meets and it brings us closer together because we have something to talk about at the dinner table, along with, 'How was school today?'"
Campbell definitely made her family proud this year. In addition to CIF Southern Section Division I and Masters titles, she set three new Rio Hondo League records in the league finals meet on May 6 at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center. She broke two individual records in the 200 (1:50.99) and 500 (4:53.10) and also was apart of the 200 free relay team (with Mackenzie Heaton, Sarah Olson and Samantha Campbell) that set a new record this year with a time of 1:42.50.
With all the success Campbell's had this year, it's hard to imagine a way she can improve next year. She's determined to do just that, though.
"Senior year, I'll look to do more and compete as well as I have the past couple of years," Campbell said. "Next year I also have Olympic trials, so I'm going to be doing the balancing act between that and high school."
Even with all the success, Campbell still can't tell you how she's able to hop in a pool and dominate people in the other lanes.
"Honestly, I don't know what separates me from other swimmers. I have no idea what the secret is. I just do what my coaches tell me to and it works, maybe that's the secret," Campbell said.
Quash can just see that Campbell is so successful because, for one thing, she was built to swim.
"She's got power in her kick and that upper body strength," Quash said. "She's built like a swimmer. Katy is muscle."
Whatever the secret is, Campbell's earned her success. She practices about 30 hours a week, including early morning and late night workouts, with both coming in one day sometimes. There are plenty of days Campbell has trouble walking up the stairs at La Cañada High because she's so exhausted from the previous day's workout. Still, she wouldn't trade it away.
"This is my passion," Campbell said. "This is what I do with my time, a lot of my time. You have to have a drive to do something like this, play a sport or do anything you love. That drive is what keeps you going day after day.
"I have passion for what I do and it makes waking up at 5 a.m. and everything else all worth it. Winning a race, even if it's by one second, makes it all worth it."