For three years, Emma Waddell of Bangor was the chaser.
In every Class A state meet, Waddell would line up for the 200-yard individual medley next to Genevieve Worthley of Deering, who is a year older. Without fail, Waddell would jump to a lead in the butterfly and extend it in the backstroke, then Worthley would surge ahead in the breast stroke and hold off Waddell’s freestyle charge.
As a freshman, Waddell finished one second behind Worthley. As a sophomore and junior, Waddell was a half-second behind.
Funny thing, Waddell never got discouraged. She looked forward to the challenge of matching strokes with a worthy opponent.
“I loved those races,” Waddell said. “Good, fast races.”
This winter, with Worthley swimming in college, it was Waddell being chased.
Nobody ever caught her.
Waddell won the Class A IM by seven seconds, missing a state record by two-tenths. She set a state record of 54.49 in the 100 butterfly to complete her four-year sweep of that event. Her butterfly time would have won the Class A 100 free.
She is the Maine Sunday Telegram Performer of the Year for girls’ swimming and diving.
“It’s kind of sad that she’s graduating,” said Bangor Coach Cindy Howard. “She’s a coach’s dream. She’s a very driven young lady and extremely bright.”
Indeed, ranked fourth in her class academically with a 4.0 unweighted GPA, Waddell had plenty of college options. She was accepted early at Williams and plans on a career in medicine similar to her parents, both doctors.
Her mom grew up in Maine and her dad is from South Carolina. Waddell spent her formative years in El Paso, Texas, before moving to Maine prior to the eighth grade. She dabbled with soccer and gymnastics but felt most comfortable in a swimming pool.
“I was good at it and I liked it, so I started swimming year-round at 7 or 8,” she said. “My parents never pushed me. It was always up to me. If I wasn’t feeling it, they never forced me to go.”
In Texas, Waddell was one of many. Her team had 200 kids, three pool locations and a coach who had trained Olympians.
Maine swimming is much smaller, but Waddell never forgets there are faster swimmers out there, even if they live outside the state.
“She saw that she was a big fish in a little pond but she never acted that way,” said Howard, who lived in San Diego before moving to Maine. “She has no airs about her. She volunteers a lot, has helped me out with Special Olympics and is always willing to help.”
This winter, Waddell posted the state’s top times in four events, with the 200 and 500 freestyle in addition to her butterfly and IM victories at the state meet. She was top-10 in all eight individual events and was only challenged once — by Brunswick freshman Caitlin Tycz, whose seed time in the 100 butterfly was better than that of Waddell.
“I think a lot of people thought I would be nervous,” Waddell said of their race. “But I was just excited to have such a good competitor.”
No Maine schoolgirl had broken 55 seconds in the butterfly. Tycz touched the wall in 54.78 — three-tenths behind Waddell. They embraced over a lane line, Tycz squealing with delight and Waddell welling up with emotion. Two nights later, Colby Harvey of Waynflete, in an attempt to win back her state record, set a Class B mark of 54.97.
“We were both thrilled,” Waddell said. “That’s one thing about Maine swimming I really like. Even in those races, everyone is such a good sport. I like that it’s a community, that everyone knows each other but when it gets down to it, you’re still going to compete against each other.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:[email protected]Twitter: GlennJordanPPH____________________________This story was updated at 1:06 p.m. on March 10 to correct the order of the swimming strokes.