The Power of Team: Tennessee Helps Senior Butterflier Heather Kiger Break Barrier

KNOXVILLE,TN - NOVEMBER 22, 2015 - Heather Kiger during the Tennessee Invitational Allan Jones Aquatic Center in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics
Photo Courtesy: Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics

By Christian Hanselmann, Swimming World contributor

I won’t disagree with someone who says that swimming is an individual sport. But, at the Georgia Bulldog Invitational this weekend, the last-chance meet hosted by Georgia, I saw the power of Team. I saw the reason we swim.

Heather Kiger is a senior at the University of Tennessee. Her best 100 fly time in high school was a 56. After going a 54 her sophomore year, she had her sights set on breaking 54. Last year, she went a 54.12. Last week at SECs, she went a 54.35. She came to the Bulldog Invitational with one last chance (pun fully intended) to achieve her goal.

In the morning, she went a 54.68. At night, she went a 54.08. .08 is a nearly indiscernible difference, but it’s a difference. It’s still a 54, not a 53. Naturally, she decided to do a time trial.

Enter the Team. Unbeknownst to the Tennessee swimmers at the meet, 8 of their teammates were making the drive down from Knoxville to Athens to watch them swim in finals. Kira Toussaint, Maddy Banic, Faith Johnson, Bri Leverenz, Harper Bruens, Amanda Carner, Colleen Callahan, and Lauren Driscoll made what usually is a 5-hour drive in 6.5 hours due to traffic, and arrived just in time to catch the last few races before time trials started.

As she waited for the starter to start her race, it was just Kiger on the block. But, quite literally, her whole team was behind her. As she dove in, nearly 20 Volunteers swarmed the block to vocalize their support. When she touched the wall 53.16 seconds later, they erupted. Would she have met her goals without her team cheering her on? You can come to your conclusion, but I have come to mine.

Now, we often think of last-chance meets as the last chance to qualify for NCAAs. That’s not wrong, but it’s not the whole picture. I would venture to say that the vast majority of the people who swim at last-chance meets don’t qualify for NCAAs. But that’s not what it’s about. They swim because of a drive to meet their goals and their dreams. You don’t have to qualify for the highest meet to achieve success.

Kiger scratched the rest of the meet. She’s done swimming. It’s rare that someone gets to choose to go out on their terms. It’s rare that someone gets to go out without that nagging feeling of “I could have,” or “I wonder if.”

So good job, Heather. And good job to all those who strive for greatness. Greatness is within reach, so keep striving.


  1. Michael L Sweet

    I love a story with a happy ending.

  2. avatar
    Dick Beaver

    She was probably stating her goal to herself as: “I want to go UNDER 54.O.” The number she was saying to her body was 54.0. All those times she did 54 plus some one hundredths, her body was accomplishing her stated 54 seconds. Had she been using a positive affirmation of stating a goal as: I AM DOING a 53.60, for example, I can almost guarantee that she would have handily been able to achieve her goal much sooner.

    • avatar

      a) I’m sure she was saying “I want to go a 53,” and b) way to miss the point entirely.

  3. avatar
    Karla McQuain

    Lady Vol Swimmers rock!

  4. avatar

    Greeting from Milan Michigan…You are an incredible human being. You are an idol to all the young swimmer who look up to you. Way to go out on your terms!! Reading this article brought me to tears. Many readers will never know you as many folks in Milan do. You are a fierce competitor and a beautiful human inside and out.

    • avatar
      Maggie DiGesare

      Heather! I have watched you swim since you were in elementary school. This is a great accomplishment, but not nearly as great as the accomplishment of the amazing person you have always been. Joan is correct. You are inspiration to those who have followed in your flippers, not just because of what you have accomplished in the pool, but because of your enormous heart and gentle spirit. I am so very proud of you! I really can’t wait to see what you do next!

  5. avatar
    swim mom

    I am so glad my daughter swims with Heather at UT and was one of those cheering her on. It’s great to be a Tennessee Vol. These young women are a team and are stronger because of it.