Q&A with Swimmer Lauren Barber ’19

Being a star swimmer at the Division I level is not easy. Lauren Barber ’19 just makes it look that way. After winning the Patriot League Rookie-of-the-Year award in 2016, Barber upped the ante this year by taking the league’s swimmer-of-the-year prize, a performance that fueled the Navy’s seventh conference title in the past eight seasons. After her first two seasons at Navy, Barber is on a fast track to rewriting the school and Patriot League record books. Already, Barber has won a combined 14 league championships titles in relay and individual events–six titles shy of the record 20 won by former Navy swimmer Laura Gorinski ’13. A product of Wilmington Area High School, Barber grew up in North Wilmington, PA, a small town about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. Barber, who swam for JCC Sailfish in Pittsburgh, won the 2014 Junior Nationals title in the 100 breaststroke and was the Alleghany Mountain Swimmer of the Year in 2015. She also drew recruiting interest from Indiana, Penn State, Pitt and Ohio State. Last summer, Barber competed in three events at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. So far at Navy, she holds school and Patriot League records in the 100 breaststroke (1:01.51), 200 breast (2:10.53) and 200 IM (1:57.89). Barber recently chatted with writer Gary Lambrecht.

Q: Swimmers at your level spend an unusual number of hours in the water. What is your in-season swim schedule like and how difficult is it to manage your time in general here as a result?

A: It wasn’t until high school that I started doing doubles [two practices per day]. Homework wasn’t a huge factor then, because things came easier to me, so my time was easy to balance. It wasn’t until I came here that I had to really work to balance school work and swimming. School is much harder here, and it was a real adjustment plebe year. I put more emphasis on swimming. I struggled in school because of that.

Q: Describe a day in your life during swimming season.

A: I wake up at 5:20 every morning for practice, go from practice to breakfast and then to school. Right after school, it’s back to practice. I’ll be in Lejeune [Hall] from about 3:30 until 6. Then I go to dinner then back to my room to start homework. I procrastinated a lot last year, so I was up past 11 almost every night. It took me until first semester of this year to figure out a system that worked best for me. This [past season], I was still up until about 1 a.m. many nights studying. I do like that structure. I don’t like much down time.

Q: How do you spend down time?

A: I’m not a huge TV watcher, just because it’s hard to keep up with shows, since I don’t usually have an hour to sit down and watch. I’ll usually go on Facebook or 10 or 15 minutes, or spend some time with friends or teammates and just hang out and laugh.

Q: Do these Patriot League titles impress you?

A: It’s a huge honor, but that isn’t and never was a goal for me. I didn’t even know about the [meaning of 14 titles] until after the Patriots [championships] this year. I’m just doing my thing. In high school, I never raced to win. I was more concerned about my times. I’m still like that. I’m very happy to get points for the team, but I’m happier to finish second with my best time than I would be with a first-place finish and slower time. It’s hard for people to understand that. Sometimes I’ll get out of the pool after a win and someone will congratulate me, and my reaction is more like, “Yeah, but I swam slow.” My parents tell me I shouldn’t act upset after I’ve won. I don’t want people to think I’m ungracious, but that’s how it is.

Q: Have you ever been in trouble in the water in your life?

A: Not that I can remember. I’ve spent lots of time swimming in the ocean on vacation. When I was 10, I remember we were on vacation in Hawaii, and I was swimming in eight-foot waves, getting flipped around by the waves. I was very comfortable in the water early on. Now, if something brushes against me under the water—jellyfish or coral or something like that—that bothers me. But I love the ocean. I don’t think I’ve ever been in panic mode.

Q: Have you ever watched “Jaws?”

A: I’ve never watched it from start to finish, but I know the story. I’m very aware of the [surfer] Bethany Hamilton story [Hamilton lost an arm in a shark attack]. I have never had to deal with a shark in the water.

Q: Swimming seems like such an unforgiving sport. The slightest mistake often can cost you dearly. How do you deal with that?

A: It’s all about getting your hand on the wall first. One mess-up, especially in the shorter races like the 50 free, can cost you the race. You either do everything perfectly and you will drop far off the lead. That basically sums up my Patriots [championships] this year. I placed very well. Time-wise, I wasn’t anywhere I needed to be, especially in the 100 breaststroke, even though I thought and felt like I’d done well. When I went down to the University of Georgia to try to make the NCAAs, I swam the 100 breaststroke four times. Each time I thought everything was going perfectly. Each time I got slower and slower. I still can’t pinpoint where it fell apart. It was hard getting out of the pool. I couldn’t understand where I went wrong. That’s my sport.

Q: Who are some swimmers that have inspired you?

A: When I was much younger, I loved swimmers like Natalie Coughlin and Michael Phelps, but what they’ve done in the pool is so out of reach for me. Around eighth or ninth grade, I started looking up to people whom I could more realistically compete against one day. One female swimmer who is still a huge inspiration to me is Leah Smith. She’s a senior at Virginia now. She’s from Pittsburgh. She swam in the same club as me, and she made the 2016 Olympic team [and won a bronze in the 400 free and gold in the 4x200 relay]. I started getting to know Leah before she’d ever won an Olympic medal. We still see each other sometime when I’m home on a break.

Q: How do you cope with the inevitable boredom that comes with training?

A: A huge part of swimming is entertaining yourself when you’re looking at a black line for hours on end. Sometimes my mind is on all of the things I’ve got to do at school. Sometimes I’m just not into it that day. But those are the days that separate the greats from the average. Those are the days when you find the motivation

 

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