Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Annabella Barry
In a small town in Illinois the beats of the Bee Gee’s classic, “Stayin’ Alive” flow through a young swimmer’s head. The 70s hit helps 17-year-old Brynna Sentel keep her rhythm as she swims endless laps at the Civic Center.
“She’s been all about swimming since she was very little,” Sentel’s mother Lori said. Sentel began lessons at 3 years old in her hometown of Sullivan, Illinois. “She really took to the water quickly,” Mrs. Sentel remembered.
These swimming lessons soon turned into a competitive sport for Sentel. She recalled coming home one day in kindergarten and handing her mother a paper advertising tryouts for the “Sullivan Blue Dolphins.” Sentel made the team at 5 years old and she has swam for the club ever since.
From her “chubby little fingers” handing over that tryout flyer to heading downstate for the fourth year in a row, Sentel’s swim career has been non-stop and successful. Her trophy room is furnished with over 400 medals ranging from 16th place finish in first grade to a 1st in sectionals for the 100 meter backstroke. The Sullivan High School swim team captain has been awarded her team’s “Most Dedicated” 3 years in a row and in 2015 she received her club’s “Goggle” award for achievement in sportsmanship and dedication.
Dedication is a necessity when it comes to swimming. Sentel often wakes up before the crack of dawn for 5:30 a.m. practice, goes straight to school where she maintains a 3.5 GPA, and then gets right back at it for a second round of practices at 5:30 p.m.
What fuels Sentel to keep up with her rigorous schedule is the thrill of competition. When asked about the root of her competitive spirit, Sentel responded with a straightforward, “I don’t like to lose.” This attitude, along with her relentless dedication, has compelled her to sweep up titles at competitions. She swam the highest Sectional finish in the 100 meter backstroke for the past three years, her best time being 59.79 seconds. Along with numerous “High Point” awards at meets, Sentel made it to State Finals with her club team the past 4 years.
“I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am without my teammates because they push me,” Sentel said. She explained the special relationship that her team shares saying, “The bonds we make in the pool are…watertight. At 5:30 in the morning you learn so much about a person.”
Imagining a life out of the water is hard for Sentel. She had a taste of life without the sport in the winter of 2012 when she injured her arm in a trampoline accident. The swimmer was hospitalized for a week and couldn’t get in the water for 6 weeks. Her mother remembered a 13-year-old Brynna looking up at the doctor and asking, “When can I swim?” Mrs. Sentel has a crystal clear memory of the moment, “The minute the doctor said she could go back in the water, her face lit up. You could tell a weight was lifted off her shoulder. I felt like I left the office with a different kid than I walked in with. Swimming is her whole life.”