Prep swimming: Howard strives to regain title form

Prep swimming • Howard plans to swim at BYU next season.
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It was just a family kickball game in the middle of July. Olympus swimmer Shaylee Howard had no idea the havoc it would wreak on her life.

While trying to tag out a runner, Howard tripped and fell, and a pain immediately danced near her shoulder. For a moment she didn't think it was serious, but when she tried to get up, she realized she had broken her collarbone.

For a decorated swimmer entering her senior season, this was a kiss of death.

"I was really upset because I thought I wouldn't be able to get back to swimming," Howard said. "But I'm back in the water. I've just got to get back to where I was."

Months later, Howard isn't yet back to the swimmer she had been. After winning the Class 4A 100-meter freestyle as a sophomore and the 100 backstroke as a junior, she hasn't enjoyed the same type of success so far in her senior year.

What in the past had come so easy for Howard now is a struggle she faces every time she stands on the starting blocks before a meet. After months in a sling followed by months of rehab, Howard's collarbone is fully healed, but she still has a ways to go until she is unburdened by the effects of the injury.

That the broken collarbone came before her senior year, which was supposed to be the culmination of her swimming career to this point, only has added to the pain and heartbreak.

"It's definitely frustrating to work so hard and be so excited for this moment, and then all of a sudden break your collarbone," Howard said. "I mean, you can only do so much to work yourself up. You've just got to trust yourself that you'll be able to do it."

With the Class 4A state meet looming Feb. 8, Howard is looking to put the broken collarbone in the rearview for good. Though she knows her times still aren't where she wants them, she believes she'll find an extra gear on the big stage of the state meet.

"She's such a competitor and a fighter," Olympus coach Brad Goffe said. "Despite all she's gone through, I think she'll come through and do well at state. I think she'll fight through it."

She hopes it will be enough to defend her title.

"I think I'll be able to do it," Howard said. "I'm a big-meet kind of girl — I'm just really good in big meets. I think that kind of scares the other swimmers because I can come in with not the best time and, because of the pressure and excitement of the meet, put up a really good time."

Even if Howard isn't able to conjure a final victory, it won't be the last time she competes in a pool. She is committed to swim at BYU, and she knows there will be other races in her future.

"It's a big meet for me, and I have to get close or faster than my times, but it's nice to know that if it's a bad meet, I still have college," Howard said. "I feel like this meet may not show all my potential, but later meets will."