Pressure is as natural an element for a competitive swimmer as water. In both, Mary Grace Thompson thrives.
The record-setting Marshall County graduate used both to earn a place on Transylvania University’s swim team following a successful senior season that almost wasn’t. But in the end, Thompson set three individual records, reached the KHSAA state championships with her teammates for the first time in school history, and now will continue swimming at the collegiate level.
The daughter of Jason and Kim Thompson, she said the prospect that this past year, shrouded by the specter of the coronavirus pandemic, could have been a missed opportunity was nearly crushing to her. So the chance to swim in her final high school season was one she wasn’t about to take lightly.
“Realizing in December that they made the rule that indoor sports were postponed indefinitely and they weren’t meeting until January, the day I found that information out was probably the worst day of my life,” she recalled at her signing Wednesday. “I cried for hours thinking I wasn’t going to get any of my school records that I was dreaming of, so it just broke my heart.
“When I found I was going to get the opportunity to swim this year, it made me realize that I don’t need to take this season for granted and I need to push myself.”
At the state swim meet at Union College, Thompson posted a solo team record in the 50-yard freestyle with a 25.70 second time, then added a 55.89 record time in the 100 freestyle and another of 1:08.11 in the 100 backstroke.
Then on top of those records, she and her Lady Marshal teammates of Delaney Miller, Anne-Marie Atkins and Macey Weaver swam to a school record time of 1 minute, 46.19 seconds in the 200 freestyle relay. Thompson also set the pace as lead in the 400 freestyle relay with a 55.89 leg time en route to another team record of 3:54.59.
Her performances, best times and getting the chance to swim collegiately isn’t a surprise to Marshall County swim coach Richard Tobergte, who has known Thompson since she was 10 and part of a swim program in Murray.
“She was a bundle of energy, I had the chance to reconnect with her here and that bundle of energy didn’t change,” Tobergte recalled. “She has a work ethic that is outstanding. She set the example for everyone else after her.”
Thompson, who also played volleyball and ran track for MCHS, said both she and the vampire bat-branded, Lexington-based Pioneers were on each others’ radars, and that even when looking at other colleges she wound up comparing them all to Transylvania.
“I think deep down, I always knew that’s where I wanted to go,” she said. “Transy just had the most outstanding academic programs and the swim program, too, is unbelievable. I’m excited for that.”
Thompson, who plans to major in either business management or business administration, said she was recruited for the 50- and 100-yard freestyle and also plans to compete in the 100-yard backstroke. But it all boils down to competing in the water.
“I like the competition,” she added. “It will help me have more competition my age and that will definitely propel me for bigger competitions and more intense meets to be a better athlete.
“I thrive under pressure.”