Boardman’s Bailey carving own path with Spartans

Brooke Bailey waited on the deck of the C.T. Branin Natatorium, hoping she’d finally see her older brother’s dream come to fruition.

Ryan Bailey competed at the state swim meet many times before, only to see someone else stand atop the podium amid the humid, indoor venue. The Boardman High School athlete eventually held off a trio of competitors to flash his newly found gold medal, indicative of an Ohio High School Athletic Association state championship last February.

The two family members hugged each other – celebrating the 100-yard butterfly victory.

“It was easily one of the best meets of my life, just to watch him,” said Brooke, a Boardman High School junior. “I, all three years he was at the state meet, waited his sophomore and junior year to give him that hug. When I finally did, it meant the world to me.”

Ryan is a freshman at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

“It really became real when I saw her and my coaches poolside waiting for me. That was great,” Ryan said following the Feb. 23 state meet.

Brooke followed her brother’s success in the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke, being one of the area’s better swimmers in both events this season. Only Howland’s Aimee Gysegem and Warren G. Harding’s Emily Thirion, both state qualifiers last year, have clocked better times in both events.

Brooke wanted to add more to her repertoire.

She’s been tinkering with the 200 and 500 freestyles where endurance and high-tech preparation tests your mental as well as your physical capacity.

Brooke and her father, Jerry, devised a plan that would take her through each leg of the race – pinpointing the splits down to the second in the 500.

She crunched the numbers and presented to the idea to her coach, Terry O’Halloran, on the 2-hour bus ride from Boardman to Wooster for a Northeast Aquatic Conference Championship meet.

Brooke set the school record with 5 minutes, 18.25 seconds. Her first 100 was in less than a minute, followed by back-to-back 1:04 times. She jumped to 1:06 by the 400 mark and then rallied with a 1:03 in the final 100. Brooke beat a top-seeded swimmer in that race.

“How does somebody do that?” O’Halloran said. “I have no idea. She knew exactly what pace she was going. She knew exactly what she was doing. She went out in a 59 (seconds). That girl from Wooster, seeded first, had know idea what was coming. She was a body length ahead of her on the 100 turn.

“I said, ‘This race is over. That girl is deflated already.’ It was a 4-second win. In swimming, that’s a lot.”

Meanwhile, Brooke and Ryan have stayed in touch since Ryan left for Annapolis, some place Brooke has showed interest in, but said she’s open to other options. They talk following every one of their meets, a promise they haven’t broken so far.

“I miss him all the time,” Brooke said. “He’s always on my mind. I always think, if I have a rough practice or something, I always think, what would Ryan tell me right now? Or, what would he be saying to make me feel better? I think of those moments I got, that I was so lucky to have for two years. I think of those when I need them.”

Earlier this month, when the temperatures dipped below zero and most athletes were settled into their nice, warm homes for a day off practice, Brooke didn’t have those thoughts enter her mind. She had her parents take her to Youngstown State University’s Beeghly Natatorium, where the Spartans practice and compete. Her Boardman teammates weren’t there, but her club team, Penguin Swimming, kept their schedule.

“That’s a big part of me,” she said. “I don’t like missing a day at all. I love being at school. I get lucky, even with my parents, who make sure I can get to the pool. They’ll take me. It’s not safe for me. I’m a new driver. They’ll get me down there.”

With Brooke’s dogged determination, it’ll be hard for many people to catch the determined Boardman junior – just like her older brother.

“She is tenacious,” O’Halloran said. “She practices really hard. She’s meticulous about her practicing. From what I’ve watch of her, when she gets out ahead, nobody’s going to track her down.”