It’s been in the back of her mind ever since she was a little girl.
Spence Atkins, now a Riverview High sophomore, has had one goal — to reach the Olympics.
Sure, it’s a lofty goal. But Atkins isn’t one to shy away from hard work.
Of course, when you grow up surrounded by greatness, the mere thought of competing on the world’s biggest stage doesn’t seem all that farfetched.
Her mother, Tillie, swam for the University of Tennessee and went to the Olympic Trials, while her grandfather finished fourth in the 100-meter freestyle at the 1956 Olympics.
After hearing stories of her grandfather and mother’s Olympic achievements and watching several of her teammates vie for a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, Atkins hopes to follow suit.
“I definitely think about it a lot,” Atkins says. “Seeing my teammates go makes me want to go even more.”
As a freshman, Atkins advanced to the Class 3A Swimming & Diving Championships in the 100-yard butterfly and the 200-yard freestyle.
Following her berth in the state championships, Atkins made her first senior national cut time in the mile at the 2013 YMCA Short Course National Championships. Atkins finished fourth overall in 16 minutes, 25.61 seconds.
“I dropped a lot of time,” Atkins says. “During the distance events I can tell whether I’m doing well. I just kind of know. I have various strokes and I can feel it.
“I get so nervous before I race,” Atkins says. “I’ve always been like that, even at smaller meets. My heart beats so fast because I’m so excited and I want to do so well.”
After a breakout freshman season, Atkins is eyeing another banner year.
Atkins won both of her individual events to help lead Riverview to a first-place finish at a quad meet Oct. 2.
Atkins won the 100-yard butterfly (59.83) and 100-yard backstroke (1:01.17). She also led off the Lady Rams’ winning 200-yard freestyle relay. It was a relatively relaxed meet for Atkins, who didn’t swim either of her signature races — the 200-and 500-yard freestyles.
Atkins began swimming for the Sarasota Sharks, alongside her twin sister, Shealyn, when she was 8 years old.
Atkins quickly fell in love with the sport; however, there was one part that the then-8-year-old just couldn’t embrace.
“I never wore a cap,” Atkins says with a laugh. “I refused to wear it.”
Over the past eight years, Atkins has developed into one of the area’s premier swimmers.
Now, she is preparing to lead Riverview into this Saturday’s Tri-County Championships and next week’s Sarasota County Championships, before preparing for the Class 4A-District 6 meet Nov. 2, with the hopes of advancing to the regional and state meets for the second-consecutive season.
Eventually, Atkins has aspirations of swimming in college, perhaps at the University of Georgia, where her grandfather swam and is now in the university’s Hall of Fame, or the University of California. She will also, of course, vie for her own spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
“My mom has always told me to, ‘Just feel it and go because you’ve trained hard enough for this,’” Atkins says. “She knows how hard I work.”
BY THE NUMBERS
6- The number of days Atkins trains with the Sarasota Sharks.
16:25.61- The time Atkins posted in the mile to make the senior national cut at the 2013 YMCA Short Course National Championships this spring.
500- The distance in yards of Atkins’ signature freestyle race.
2- The number of events Atkins competed in at last year’s Class 3A Swimming & Diving Championships.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].