BOULDER -- Much like Regis Jesuit Olympian Missy Franklin, Fairview's Abbie Houck cannot fathom a life of swimming that doesn't include competing for her high school team.
That's what made a difficult decision earlier this year all the more wrenching.
Late last winter, as the Knights approached the season's stretch run, Houck had every reason to brim with excitement over the upcoming Class 5A state finals. The distance specialist was the defending state champion in the 500 freestyle, and Houck was eyeing a repeat run in a potential showdown with former Cherry Creek standout Bonnie Brandon.
However, the weekend of the state finals also happened to coincide with USA Swimming's Missouri Grand Prix, a competition that offered Houck a prime opportunity to advance her training for last summer's U.S. Olympic Trials.
With a torn heart -- and with the unwavering blessings of her coaches and teammates -- Houck opted to compete at the Grand Prix. Back in the pool with the Knights this year, Houck is expecting big things individually and team-wise during her final high school campaign.
"There were other girls from other teams in Colorado who went to that (Grand Prix) and chose not to swim high school overall," Houck said. "That was their decision. Mine was to swim with them up until state. The (Grand Prix) was just more experience. Getting out in the bigger world of swimming. Getting ready for trials. When you walk into it, it's scary. Getting more experience at those top meets was kind of good for me. Just being able to race at that kind of level, you have to do it sometimes to get used to it.
"Part of my thought was that I was only a junior, and I still had one more year to compete in high school swimming at that state meet. It definitely was hard. I knew I could help the team at that state meet. But the coaches were understanding of what my goals were. They were all happy for me."
This week will mark Houck's season debut for the Knights, as the senior expects to compete at four meets for the Knights this season. The first of those occurs Saturday at the annual Colorado Coaches Invitational at the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center in Thornton.
Houck, who swam the 400 freestyle at last summer's Olympic Trials, also is planning to compete for Fairview at the Boulder County Invitational, the Knights' dual meet against rival Boulder, and state.
“(High school) is still fun,” said Houck, who will swim at Louisville next year. “I have to make sure I don’t over-train or anything, and do one more than the other, but it’s still fun. Definitely as your senior year of swimming, it’s a lot harder. But the last coaches meet, the last state, it’s all kind of weird. I definitely am trying to enjoy it all.”
Houck, already owns four top-eight individual medals at state, placing fourth in the 200 freestyle as a freshman in 2010 and finishing second in the 500 freestyle behind Brandon. The following year Houck collected her first state title in the 500 and added a third-place finish in the 200 freestyle.
Along with fellow senior Lacey Smith, a Northwestern recruit, Houck will be the key figure in what could be a promising season for the Knights. Head coach Bob Smartt believes a number of talented freshmen have the potential to place in individual events at state, while Houck and Smith will make Fairview a formidable force in relay events.
Saturday’s Coaches Invite will provide Fairview its first glimpse at how it stacks up against the state’s best.
“Relays are the heart and soul of high school swimming, and Abbie always gives us huge efforts,” Smartt said. “It’s always in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays, and the 200 relay is right after she swims the 500. Abbie is only going to have about 9 (minutes) between events. But she gives us a phenomenal effort and sacrifices for the team. That’s really where her contributions to the team really manifest.”
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