New York Teen Alexa Reyna Looking Forward to French Future on International Stage

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Photo Courtesy: Alexa Reyna

New York Teen Alexa Reyna Looking Forward to French Future

Fast as the time was, Alexa Reyna didn’t feel like she was in the best place. With more than two years of hindsight, she’s sure of it now.

It was January 2020, and Reyna had just hit a significant milestone. Reyna had gone 16:48.25 in the 1500 freestyle at the Jim Wood Winter Memorial Invitational at Rutgers University. That meant the eighth grader, swimming for Westchester Aquatics Club and White Plains High School in New York, qualified for the U.S. Olympics Trials, at that point still slated for the ensuing summer.

For as fast as the swim was, Reyna felt she needed a break. Her heart wasn’t fully in swimming, even as she’d enjoyed success in the high school pool before being enrolled in high school.

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Alexa Reyna, right, on the podium; Photo Courtesy: Alexa Reyna

Little did she or anyone know that an unprecedented reset was just around the corner.

“Physically I was there, but mentally I was just very sad and I guess I fell into this depression for a couple of months,” Reyna said. “I was going to take a break from swimming right before quarantine started, but then I got three months off, which kind of made me feel even more isolated. But then when I got back to swimming, it motivated me again.”

That sabbatical isn’t all that paid off for Reyna. By the time she and the world emerged from the first COVID-19 pause, Reyna was not only recommitted to the sport, but she had another goal to aim for. Instead of swimming at Trials in Omaha the next summer, she connected to the French National Team, the country of her mother’s birth. And after a stellar performance at French Nationals this spring, Reyna is poised to compete at World Juniors this summer.

“I think it’ll feel very empowering,” Reyna said. “I’m just so excited to be able to represent the French flag, putting it on my cap, wearing it for me to swim.”

Before the Break

When Reyna got her Trials cut, she wasn’t totally committed to swimming, she admits. But you’d have a hard time divining that from her results.

As a seventh grader at Highlands Middle School, Reyna finished eighth in the 500 free at the NYSPHSAA Swimming Championships in the fall of 2018. (New York state allows seventh and eighth graders enrolled in their public school districts to compete at the high school level in certain endurance sports.) A year later, Reyna was the state champion in the 500 as an eighth grader, in 4:47.80, to go with fifth place in the 200 free.

She lost her freshman swim championships to COVID-19, but as a sophomore last fall, she did the distance double, downing the state record in the 500 free with a 4:44.59.

All that early success could’ve come with pressure, but Reyna didn’t allow it to. Part of that stemmed from not being as serious about the sport as she has since become. Going to states as a middle schooler, even as a returning medalist, was just another trip away from home.

“I was a middle schooler, I was one of the youngest people there, so I didn’t have much pressure on my shoulders,” she said. “I just wanted to try my best. I wanted the experience of having fun, going away with the states team, being able to sleep at the hotel and just getting away from home and racing. I’m competitive, so I love to win, and that’s what I tried doing and that’s what I did.”

The relaxed nature speaks to Reyna’s origins in the sport. Swimming started as something to do with her two sisters. Salma Reyna, a high school senior and the middle sister, led the way to the pool. The eldest, Margaux Reyna, swims at Dickinson College. Alexa naturally followed in their footsteps.

“We’re very competitive, if I’m being honest, all three of us,” Alexa Reyna said. “I think that’s what motivates us to swim. We love winning, and we played a lot of other sports before that, but swimming is the one that we ended up with.”

NYSPHSAA rules allowed the Reynas, despite the five-year spread in ages, to swim together on a relay in 2018 at states, in the 200 free. (They didn’t all land on the same relay the following year in part because of a new seventh-grade White Plains phenom, Claire Weinstein.)

“I loved swimming with them. It’s so fun,” Alexa Reyna said. “It’s better than swimming with your best friend. It’s having your own blood swim in the same relay, that’s pretty cool, especially since all three of us get to states.”

While Reyna’s commitment to swimming wasn’t as complete as it would grow to be, that’s not to say she was disinterested when she hit the Trials cut. She narrowly missed the 800 free cut the day before, a result she said left her “heartbroken.” Swimming angry and extra driven paid off in the 1,500.

Hitting that time, whatever she felt outside of the water, was vindicating.

“I think it gave me a lot of relief that I was doing this for a reason, and that all this hard work does pay off,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I put all of this work in but I don’t drop time, but that’s understandable for every swimmer. You can’t really drop in every single meet. But seeing that I made the Olympic Trial cut for the first time opened my eyes to so many more opportunities in the future. I felt a lot of joy when I touched the wall and I looked up at the time.”

A New Door Opens

The pause in swimming caused by COVID-19 changed a lot for Reyna. It took time to adjust her routines and find ways to work out beyond the pool, and the return to the water was admittedly rough. But one change during that span seemed unequivocally for the better.

With the Olympic Trials cut in hand, Reyna and her mom, Stephanie, started to wonder: What about representing France? Stephanie was born in France, and Alexa speaks French, after attending a French school when she was young. They’ve traveled back to the country regularly.

A few calls connected Reyna with the federation, which led to a chance to train and compete with ES Massy Natation, a club in the southern suburbs of Paris.

“I always loved the language, I always loved the country,” Reyna said. “And representing France, it gives me a whole, warm feeling, over the U.S.”

Reyna has excelled against French competition. In April’s French Elite Championships in Limoges, she finished third in the 1,500 free (in 16:42.04, nearly seven seconds quicker than in 2020), third in the 800 free and fourth in the 400 free. In the 800, she was the top French finisher at 8:43.42, finishing behind a pair of Russians swimming as guests under the FFN banner.

That performance sets up a busy swimmer. On the docket is European Junior Championships in Bucharest, Romania, in July, then a quick turnaround to World Juniors, hastily relocated to Lima, Peru, for the end of August.

Euros will be the first chance for Reyna to represent her country on the international stage, a prospect that she finds thrilling.

“I’m so excited for that,” Reyna said. “I think I’ll feel more confident. I think I’ll be very excited. I don’t think I would get nervous; I would just do the best I can to represent my country.”

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