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Change of Heart

Like a suspect under interrogation, worn down by persistent questioning, Jackie Hynson couldn’t help blurting out a confession. She was guilty—of once hating swimming.

The moment was rich with irony, for the young girl who dreaded diving into a pool as if piranhas lurked there has blossomed into the reigning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Swimmer of the Year and a seven-time All-American. Hynson capped her junior season in March by finishing third at nationals in both the 200 backstroke and 200 butterfly, shattering PSAC records in each.

Hard to believe such an accomplished swimmer could ever have loathed the sport.

“I have really bad ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], and so my parents more than anything just wanted me doing year-round exercise because it kept me from annoying them,” Hynson said with a laugh. “I tried gymnastics, but I kept getting hurt. So my parents signed me up for swimming, and I hated it. Sometimes I would hide in the bathroom during practice, and my mom would have to drag me out and tell me to get back in the pool. I hated it so much.”

That changed in a heartbeat when Petra Adamkova—coincidentally, a former IUP All-American—arrived to coach her youth team, the Potomac Raiders.

“Petra Adamkova
...made me want to work hard and become a better swimmer”

“She took over when I was about thirteen,” said Hynson, a Speech Pathology major from King George, Va., who is a member of the Robert E. Cook Honors College. “On Petra’s very first day as our coach, she pulled me out of the lower level and moved me to the senior group, because I guess she saw some sort of potential in me. It felt so amazing to have someone believe in me that from that day on, I was excited to go to practice. She made me want to work hard and become a better swimmer. And then Damon Garrison took over when I was about fifteen. If those two hadn’t kicked some sense into me, I think I could’ve just walked away from swimming and never thought twice about it.”

Hynson improved markedly after embracing the sport she nearly abandoned, caught the eye of college recruiters, and wound up accepting a scholarship offer from Division I Oakland (Mich.) University. But she was miserable in her single season there: The school was far from home, the coaches restricted her to butterfly events, and Oakland did not offer a speech pathology program. Hynson found a better fit at IUP and transferred, prompting coach Chris Villa to celebrate like a Lotto winner. He had hit the jackpot in a sense.

“She’s a 4.0 student, she’s an outstanding swimmer, and she does all the community service and things that we ask,” said Villa, the 2011 women’s PSAC Coach of the Year. “She’s the total package, in and out of the pool.”

Earning A’s in the classroom has become as much a part of Hynson’s routine as slashing times in the water. Since arriving at IUP, she has whacked a whopping twelve seconds off her personal best in the 400 individual medley, seven in the 200 IM, six in the 200 backstroke, and five in the 200 freestyle.

Villa attributes those dramatic drops to Hynson’s maniacal work habits. “She doesn’t have that natural gift,” he said, “but she just works her butt off. I mean, every single day she’s thinking she needs to work harder than those other people who maybe have more talent. In practice she’s just a workhorse.”

Jackie Hynson

That spare-no-effort approach enabled Hynson to reap dividends like an oil exec this past season. She won the 200 back, 200 fly, and 400 IM at the conference meet to earn PSAC Swimmer of the Year honors, the first IUP woman to do so since Adamkova in 2000. For her encore, Hynson placed third in the 200 back and 200 fly, sixth in the 400 IM, and thirteenth in the 200 IM at the NCAA Division II meet in San Antonio to augment by four her collection of All-America certificates.

Hynson clocked a blistering 2:00.85 in the 200 fly, just seventy-seven hundredths of a second behind champion Alexandra Henley of UC San Diego and fifty-one hundredths behind runner-up Amanda Thomas of Southern Connecticut.

“She outswam the other two over the last hundred,” Villa said. “She was really chasing them down at the end. Another six inches, she might have had it.”

While Hynson didn’t seriously challenge either Mary O’Sullivan of Florida Southern (1:56.90) or Henley (1:57.14) later that day in the 200 back, touching the wall in 1:59.45 left her exultant.

“That was a big deal for me, because breaking two minutes has been a goal for a long time,” Hynson says. “I had a 2:05 when I first came to IUP, and then this year I went a 1:59. That never would have happened if I hadn’t come here and trained with Coach.”

Villa allowed Hynson to spread her wings, to swim strokes other than the butterfly. The result? All-America honors seven times over and seven school records, six in individual events (100 and 200 back, 100 and 200 fly, 200 and 400 IM) and one in the 400 medley relay with Allyson Mitidieri, Ashley McAteer, and Katie Lehman.

Hynson, back in confession mode, admits the youngster who hid in a bathroom to avoid practice, who dreaded the pool as if it were a shark tank, never could have imagined achieving such a lofty level of success in swimming. Or loving so ardently a sport that once caused her untold anguish.

“Now I’m going to be a senior, and I only have one year left, and that’s really scary,” Hynson said. “Because I went from arguing with my mom and crying in the car and saying I hated swimming and I didn’t want to go to practice to the point where I have no idea what I’m going to do without it.

“You know, when people ask me to tell them something about myself, I always start with, ‘Well, I swim.’ I don’t know what I’m going to do when it becomes, ‘Well, I used to swim.’”