Olympic silver medal-winning swimmer Rhyan White makes a triumphant returnDec 02, 2022 01:08PM ● By Carl Fauver
This banner now proudly hangs at Cottonwood High, after Rhyan White returned to the school to offer words of encouragement to current Colt athletes. (cottonwoodcolts.org)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
Arguably Cottonwood High School’s most acclaimed athlete ever, is not a CHS graduate. Oh, Rhyan White certainly earned her diploma; but it was from the public charter high school located inside Cottonwood.
Students of the Academy for Math, Engineering & Science—or AMES High School—are allowed to compete for Cottonwood teams, since they are located in the same spacious Murray building. And that eligibility rule allowed the CHS girls swim team to produce Utah’s first-ever Olympic swimmer—and a silver medalist to boot.
Earlier this fall, White made a triumphant return to her alma mater, where student-athletes of both Cottonwood and AMES treated her to a hero’s return, at a school assembly in their gymnasium.
“It was super fun (returning to Cottonwood High School), because I don’t get a lot of opportunities to get back to Utah these days,” White said. “I was very excited. It was not what I was expecting. (The students) were super-attentive. It was really cool to talk with them. And they wanted lots of pictures.”
It had actually not been that long since White visited Cottonwood High. Just two months earlier she was there to hand out awards at a summer swim meet. But this was White’s first time to be with a large group of students who compete on all the school’s teams—and a group that wanted to show her just how proud they are of her accomplishments.
“This assembly with Rhyan was nearly a year-and-a-half in the making,” said White’s former Cottonwood High swim coach Ron Lockwood. “Our Athletic Director Greg Southwick has been talking with me about putting it together since Rhyan made the Olympic team—even before she earned her silver medal. Everyone came to cheer and congratulate her. We had a big banner made up, honoring her. It was a nice, well-deserved tribute.”
For those not familiar with White’s exploits in a swimming cap, the first question really is: where to begin? Her “career” actually began years before high school, when she participated on coach Lockwood’s Wasatch Front Fish Market year-round competitive swim team at age 12. But, honestly, successes way back then are too numerous to mention.
Starting in ninth grade, White competed four straight years on the Cottonwood girls swim team. In all four of those years, she was named “Utah High School Female Swimmer of the Year.” In her senior season, White led the Colts to their first girls swimming state team title in 37 years. She closed her high school swimming career in that two-day meet nearly five years ago, with dominant individual state titles in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. She was also a member of two state champion relay teams, in the 200 medley and the 400 freestyle.
By the fall of 2018, White was calling Tuscaloosa home where her successes continued on the University of Alabama swim team. In 2019, she was named to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) All-Freshman Team. In 2020 and 2021 White was First Team All-SEC and also in 2021 she was crowned the conference’s Swimmer of the Year.
All of those successes preceded the meet that qualified White to become our state’s first United States Olympic swimmer.
“The U.S. Olympic trials were held in June 2021 and there were about 100 swimmers competing for each event,” White explained. “It took several races to go from the top 16, to the top eight, to the top two. It had been my goal to make the Olympic team for so many years. I was so excited to qualify in multiple events.”
After qualifying, White was soon traveling to Tokyo. It was not the first time her swimming prowess has taken her overseas.
“I have competed or been involved in swim clinics in Japan, Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), Argentina, Croatia and Budapest (Hungary). I’m also very excited about my next competition out of the country. I’m going to Australia in December.”
If any disappointment has befallen White during her swimming career, it was undoubtedly the two fourth-place finishes at the Tokyo games, in the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes. Each left her barely off the medal podium. In one of the races, the bronze medal winner bested White by less than a quarter of a second.
White’s silver medal came in the women’s 4x100-meter relay. White did not participate in the actual final relay, but earned her medal (along with three other teammates not in that medal-winning race) for her contribution in the prelims of the event.
A half a world away, her former high school coach watched every race live, here in Utah—no small feat since Japan is 15 hours ahead of us.
“I got up early…stayed up late…whatever I had to do,” coach Lockwood said. “I made sure I saw all of Rhyan’s races live.”
Ironically, White was not the only athlete Lockwood was following at the Tokyo games. About the same time he was working with White, Lockwood also coached Jarod Arroyo, who competed for the Puerto Rican Olympic team.
“Jarod also attended AMES and swam for me his freshman year,” Lockwood said. “I had coached him for a couple of years. But after that one year on the high school team his family moved to Arizona. He never lived in Puerto Rico himself; but Jarod was eligible to compete for their national team because his family was originally from there.”
Arroyo was one of only two swimmers representing Puerto Rico at the games. He qualified in the men’s 200 and 400 IM, but did not medal.
“I’ve been very lucky to coach many outstanding swimmers over the years,” Lockwood said. “About 30 of my swimmers have earned major college scholarships. It’s been about 50/50, boys and girls. My swimmers have gone to four Ivy League schools, Kansas, Texas, Virginia, Alabama, Tulane, the Air Force Academy. In our state, they’ve gone on to Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State University), BYU and Utah.”
So, bottom line coach, is White the best swimmer you’ve ever coached?
“Absolutely. I don’t mind saying that,” Lockwood said. “Even her college coach has said, ‘This is the best athlete I have ever coached.’ Rhyan is an exceptional athlete. She has all the tools, motivation and disposition to succeed. But she didn’t do it alone. It does take a village. It takes parents taking time off, skipping vacations. It takes a knowledgeable coaching staff. Things like (White’s success) don’t happen by accident. I try to pawn off as much of the credit as I can.”
That “college coach” Lockwood mentioned is Alabama Senior Associate Head Swim Coach Ozzie Quevedo. The day after White’s assembly at Cottonwood, Quevedo joined White as a guest instructor at a swimming clinic in Provo. In years past, White had attended that annual event to receive instruction from other Olympic swimmers.
“It was super cool to be a guest Olympian at the clinic,” White said. “Two of my 2020 Olympic teammates, Hunter Armstrong and Bobby Finke, were there too, along with coach Quevedo. We started the day signing autographs. Then I got in and swam with them. We got to tell them about our Olympic experience. It felt like coming full circle, after I had been on the other side of it in the past.”
White has already completed her degree at Alabama and is now taking just enough classes to be eligible for the “bonus season” she’s getting this winter. Because of coronavirus, all collegiate athletes received an additional year of athletic eligibility.
“I’m taking communication courses now; but I’m really not sure what I want to do for a career, after swimming,” White said. “I want to swim as long as I can. I will definitely tryout for the 2024 Olympic team. I also hope to go pro (as a swimmer) next year.”
White’s family continues to call Herriman home. And she promises to return to Utah for visits as frequently as possible, when not in Croatia, Australia or elsewhere.