Ally Howe is way ahead of schedule. And she couldn’t be happier about it.
When USA Swimming set up shop at Stanford two weeks ago, Howe had no idea she would start checking off goals she had set for a year or more down the line. But now the 15-year-old from Portola Valley is adjusting to the reality that when it comes to competing at the national level, her time in the sun has already arrived.
The biggest leap came at the tail end of the Junior National Championships, when Howe claimed the gold medal in the women’s 100-meter backstroke.
Bolstered by an impressive showing at the National Championships in the preceding days, she entered the Juniors hoping to qualify for an A final – the race pitting the top 10 finishers in the preliminaries – in one of her seven individual events. But after she qualified fourth in the 100 backstroke, she went on to win the event in 1 minute, 2.77 seconds on Thursday – much to her own surprise.
“That was probably the most shocked I’ve been and excited I’ve been after a race,” said Howe, who is entering her sophomore year at Sacred Heart Prep. “I was honestly really shocked. It was something my coach and I didn’t really expect.”
“It wasn’t something I thought was impossible, but I didn’t think winning an event at Juniors would come so soon,” she continued. “I thought it would be a definite goal, but it might come in a few years.”
That triumph came just over a week after Howe reached another major milestone: making her first final at the Nationals. Racing against some of the world’s best, she qualified 30th in the 100 backstroke to earn a spot in the C final, in which she finished in the same place.
Howe’s exhausting stretch of competing in 10 of 11 days also included finishing 18th in the 200 butterfly and 21st in the 200 backstroke at the Juniors – swimming under the qualifying time for the U.S. Olympic Trials in both events. She also collected gold medals in two relays with her Palo Alto/Stanford Aquatics teammates – including the 800 freestyle relay, which came less than 30 minutes after she won the 100 backstroke.
Now, with the long-course season complete, Howe realizes she has raised the bar by speeding up her developmental timeline.
“I guess other long-term goals became short-term goals,” she said.
Making multiple finals at the Nationals and winning some Junior championships were among the eventual goals. Now, they are the ongoing objective.
The biggest long-term goal? The Olympics, of course.
The 2016 Games, when Howe will be 20, represent a fine target down the road. In the near term, she will continue to build confidence and gain experience – and she is eying the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., as a great opportunity to accomplish both.
Howe has already met the cuts for the Olympic Trials in the 100 and 200 backstroke and the 100 and 200 butterfly, and she’s close in the 200 individual medley.
But with a two-week vacation at hand, Howe can afford a few moments of reveling in the present. She seems destined for plenty more riches, but she may never replicate the bliss of winning her first individual gold at the Juniors.
Asked to describe her thoughts as the scope of her achievement set in Thursday, Howe said she remembers thinking, “‘Wow. I accomplished something big I didn’t think would happen now.’”
“It was great,” she said.