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By Dan D’Addona.
While many swimmers reach their peak with year-round training and limited time out of the water, Abby Van Harn has reached her peak through sheer strength and athleticism.
The Calvin College sprinter has never spent any time on a club team and doesn’t swim year-round, but has used that strength to become an All-American. Now she is aiming for an NCAA title.
“I just liked every sport so I didn’t want to narrow it down to just swimming. In high school, I did competitive cheer, soccer, track. When I was younger, I did every sport,” she said. “I am pretty competitive, so it helps that I was better at swimming. I liked that you can see your times and improvement — and I made really good friends on the swim team, that helped.”
Her competitiveness has only increased as a college swimmer, which has teamed up with her strength to form formidable sprinting combination.
“It is definitely a big part of my swimming,” Van Harn said of her athletic physique. “Part of it is because I love weight lifting. That is really fun for me. I am excited to do more of that when I am done swimming. I learned more about it in my classes (exercise science major), so I have gotten more interested in it and experimented more. This summer, I really focused on my lifting over the summer. Hopefully it will help.
“I think especially in the 50 you can tell being more muscular is helpful. You can be so much more powerful.”
Van Harn has quickly become one of the top NCAA Division III swimmers in the country.
“Freshman year, I didn’t go to nationals. Sophomore, year, I was really just hoping to make it. We had no expectations, so I kind of surprised myself and the end of it. I did better than I could imagine,” she said. “Then last year, I never would have dreamed that I could get third at nationals in the 50, then fifth in the 100. It is a cool feeling because you have worked six months for that moment to be proud of all the work you have done. All your teammates are right there cheering so loud for you. It is just a really good way to end a year.”
Now, she is hoping to end her career on that kind of high note — with some big goals.
“My really big goal is to go a 49 in the 100 free. I have been close (50.19), but I feel like I can do it. 50 to 49 is a big deal. I really want to go a 22 in the 50 free. My best time was a 23.15. Hopefully, with the perfect start and the perfect turn, I can get that down. In the 200 free, I would really love to get the school record. Becky Weima was my swim coach, she taught me swim lessons when I was little — I really want to take down her record.”
Her teammates know she is capable of breaking Weima’s 100 and 200 records.
“It was really amazing to watch her learn so much about swimming. A lot of us have swam club for our whole lives. She would learn things and pick them up fast. She was really interested in those things and always trying to learn more. That was cool to watch her apply those things and do them very well. Her competitiveness. She is great to train with so we push each other a lot. Just to see her in that last little bit of a race — no one can finish races like that,” junior Anna Serino said. “Out of season is a lot of fun seeing her max out on weights. She is lifting as much as a lot of the distance guys, that is always fun to see.”
Weima was a four-time NCAA champion at Calvin, swimming the same events as Van Harn.
“She was my swim coach freshman year of high school at Grand Rapids Christian, and I have babysat for her kids a bunch,” Van Harn said. “We talk a lot of swimming. She always told me I can break her 50 and 100 record, but don’t break the 200. So I really want to go for it.”
Weima, was of course joking, but the fight for the records has strengthened their bond in Calvin history.
“Records are meant to be broken, but there is always part of you that wants to hold on to them,” Weima said. “But that means that Calvin’s program is doing well and continuing to make a name for itself. The first time Abby came to babysit, she told me she was going to break all my records. It is a healthy jokey relationship. The first thing that comes to mind is it reminds me how much we have a similar story. I am so happy for Abby. It shows if you have a lot of heart, you can accomplish a lot. I feel a special sense of pride in what she has been able to do.”
Weima remembers her being so athletic she was a diver, too.
“It is kind of funny. When I was swimming at Calvin, I would do summer lessons. I do remember Abby. She was always physically fit, even as a little girl,” Weima said. “When I was coaching at Grand Rapids Christian, she came on to the team. She wanted to dive and swim. Being a little bit of a smaller school, we worked that out. She was good at diving, too, but she was a strong swimmer. We focused on swimming and she was such an easy kid to coach — very competitive.”
If Van Harn can reach her goals, she could follow Weima as a national champion.
“It is hard not to think about legacy as a senior. You start thinking about next year’s team and who is going to be taking your place,” Van Harn said. “As a captain, I have been thinking a lot about how I want to make an impact on this team. It is not just about swimming, it is about leading and helping everyone have a positive experience.”
Van Harn’s experience has been extremely positive — and stunning — and could be even more so if she makes it back to the podium where her strength has transformed her into one of the best swimmers in the country.
“I know she is going to be up there at nationals. I think that she is going to break 50 in the 100 and break those Becky Weima records,” Serino said. “It is fun to watch her race because you know she is 100 percent in. She wants it bad. It is always exciting. Honestly, it isn’t really that surprising. I know what she is capable of. It is crazy to watch, sometimes it is unbelievable, but we know that she can get out there and fight.”
That is why Van Harn has her eyes set on a title.