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Murray Journal

Former Cottonwood swimmer Rhyan White makes US Olympic Team for Tokyo

Jul 01, 2021 02:47PM ● By Brian Shaw

By Brian Shaw | [email protected]

From childhood to now, Rhyan White has lived by one motto. One worn five years ago on a rubber bracelet that the Cottonwood state champion and her eight-member family sold for $5 apiece to raise money to help them attend the 2016 US Olympic Trials in Omaha: Embrace Every Opportunity. 

“I remember talking to her and her family before the qualifying meet in 2015,” said Cottonwood head swim coach Ron Lockwood. “We mapped out a plan for what we wanted the next couple years to look like; we set out a goal for qualifying for Olympic trials — had this crazy idea of setting a meet up in Cottonwood Heights — and she ended up qualifying there.” 

The goal at the 2016 US Olympic Trials in Omaha according to Lockwood was having a great experience and competing well, and White did that finishing in 18th place. Fast forward five years after White won numerous state titles at Cottonwood and went on to even more success at the University of Alabama and here she was again, on the edge of the pool in Omaha—her second US Olympic Trials. 

The Herriman native didn’t start well in the 100 backstroke final on Wednesday, June 15. In fact, White was in the back of the pack during the first 50-meters of the 100. But, as the former Cottonwood state champion touched the wall and kicked and arched back into position, she began gaining ground on her competitors. 

With 30 meters to go before the finish, the 2021 three-time SEC champion for the Alabama Crimson Tide kicked into top gear. 20 meters, and White was even closer to her competition. At 10 meters, she overtook her last opponent and touched the wall second, becoming Cottonwood High’s — and Alabama’s — first ever Olympic swimmer. 

“My heart was so full I can’t even remember what she said!” recalled her old high school/club coach Lockwood of his telephone conversation with White immediately following her second-place finish. “Man, it was quite a whirlwind!! She went from leaving the pool and signing autographs with [fellow Olympic swimmer] Lilly King to talking to me.” 

Four days later in Omaha on Sunday, June 19, White was back in the pool for her second Olympic Trials event, the 200 backstroke — one that Lockwood and other coaches felt was her signature event. 

“We all agreed she was going to win the 200 back,” explained Lockwood. “Having talked to her on the phone a little bit before the race, she was going into it with all the confidence in the world she could do it, and I think that’s why were talking about her right now.” 

Ironically, White was in 3rd place after 50 yards of the 200 back, and fell back after 100 meters even further into 5th. However, the former Cottonwood great had a phenomenal 50 meters in the third lap of the 200, and then exploded past world record holder and prohibitive favorite Regan Smith over the last 20 meters, taking an extraordinary half-second victory over her closest competitor—though nobody outside of her own high school coach and a handful of others gave the former Cottonwood star and reigning SEC Swimmer of the Year a chance. 

White had just qualified for her second Olympic event, but the ingredients that make the Herriman native who she is also comes from a long line of helpers, according to Cottonwood athletic director Gregg Southwick. 

“She is and was an exceptional athlete, and you hope to get more than one in your lifetime,” explained Southwick. “To have the opportunity to know someone that has her skill set, drive and family backing — all the tools that lead to those exceptional swims is a proud moment for all of us here at Cottonwood.” 

The old high school coach Lockwood added that he looks forward to watching his former pupil compete in Tokyo later this month, but only as a cheerleader. “I think what makes Rhyan so special is her ability to touch others,” said the coach who doubled as White’s club coach on the Wasatch Front Swim Market through her formative teenage years. “It warmed my heart that the first thing she did after qualifying for the Olympics and getting out of the pool was to sign autographs for those kids. 

But if you know anything about her, it shouldn’t come as any surprise. She may be competitive, and that’s a good thing, and she may still be as tall as she was at 14 compared to some of swimming’s giants, but within that confidence in her ability also lies a bit of humility, grace and the composure to do the right thing right after she finished, and seeing that she did that on TV brought a warm smile to my face.”