When Regan Kology's swim coach suggested she compete in April in the USA Swimming National Open Water Championships in Fort Meyers, Fla., the sophomore could see one primary benefit.
"I'm not one for turns," she said, "and this had no turns."
Instead of facing a flip-turn at the end of every lap in a swimming pool, the Open Water Championships were held in, well, open water. Miromar Lake became Kology's competition ground for her first shot at open water swimming, and she finished in 10th place overall.
Kology's performance qualified her for the first FINA World Junior Open Water Championships, which take place Aug. 16-19 in Welland, Canada.
Of all those connected to the event, no one is more surprised than Kology herself. "I figured, it's my first time, there's no pressure, I've got nothing to prove," Kology, 15, said of her attitude before the meet.
"I remember some people giving me advice. They said, 'Pretty much it's like a 5k sprint,'" Kology said. "People said, it's not anything like swimming in a pool."
For over a month she trained at the Montclair Kimberley Academy, working on distance swimming. "Originally, I thought I'd go out strong, get into a nice groove and hold it there, pick it up on the second lap, and on the last one, just go."
Still she said she felt nervous. "At times in the airport as we were going down, I was thinking, this is such a bad idea," Kology said.
As soon as the race started, "everyone started sprinting, vying to get ahead, and I had to rethink my strategy," she said. "I thought I couldn't do it."
"Somewhere in the second lap, I zoned out. When I came out of it, I ralized I was way in front. That gave me the strength to go faster in the last lap, to just ignore the pain and push through," Kology said. "In the third lap, that's when the adrenaline really kicked in."
As Kology pulled ahead of her group and swam by herself, "I was just thinking, this is so much fun." Even during the most difficult moments, she said, when "the orange buoys weren't getting any closer, ... it was fun at the same time."
When she came out of the water, Kology realized she'd finished 10th overall in the race and second in the age 14-16 division. "It's definitely not what I was expecting," she said. "It's my first time swimming open water in my life. I didn't think it could happen to me."
The strangest thing about open water swimming, other than the aquatic life in the lake, was how Kology was tagged with her number. "They ink your number on your arms, on your actual body," instead of on your swim suit, Kology said. "They use vegetable extract or something, so it doesn't come off for days."
The 2012 FINA junior open water team will meet in Buffalo, N.Y. to travel to Canada for the competition. Kology will meet world competitors in open water sports, such as crew.
"I'll be representing my country in this meet," Kology said. "I feel like it's still sinking in."