CHATHAM, NJ - It was during the summer Cabana swim season in California, when she was 12, that Hannah Womer realized that she doesn't like to lose.
"I was not fast when I did it and there was this one girl I wanted to beat really badly, so I decided to do year-round swimming just to beat her," Womer said. "That's what got me into this. I just don't like losing. I wanted to be as fast as her. I kind of looked up to her. Eventually, yeah, I did beat her."
That was four years ago and that fire to win still burns inside the 16-year-old Chatham High sophomore. It is one of the reasons Chatham still has not lost a girls swim meet in six years.
Last Thursday, Chatham extended its winning streak to 93 by edging Scotch Plains-Fanwood, 86.5 to 83.5 and Womer did her part as the anchor for the final event - the 400 free relay.
When Chatham teammate Nicole Tingley touched the wall to send Womer into the pool for the anchor leg, her Scotch Plains opponent at anchor was Sarah Davis.
"The girl next to me was actually the girl who beat me in the 100 (51.54 for Davis to 51.93 for Womer), so it was uh-oh, I can't lose to her again." Womer said. "I was hoping she would be in line with me. It was tight, but we pulled it off. I love anchoring relays. It was so much fun."
Chatham's 400 free relay clocked 3:32.47, breaking the school record of 3:35.53. In the meet, Womer set two individual school records by finishing first in the 200 individual medley in 2:07.71 (old mark 2:08.12); second in the 100 free in 51.93 (old mark 52.50), and was part of two relay records, the 400 free and the 200 free.
Hannah Womer is the TAP into Chatham Athlete of the Week.
The Chatham swim community is just learning how good a swimmer Womer can be. That's because Chatham coach Frank DiGiacomo hid her as a "secret weapon" until the Scotch Plains-Fanwood meet.
"I knew she was coming in the middle of August and immediately looked up her times and knew we had someone special coming," DiGiacomo said. "I hid her as long as I could. She's a very good swimmer and a very special athlete. She's already qualified for the Meet of Champions in the 200 IM and the 100 free."
Womer, whose personal best in the 200 IM is 2:03, had no idea of the importance of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood matchup until the day of the meet.
"I didn't know it was going to be that kind of meet until the day of and everyone is coming up to me and saying "We have to win. We can't lose, we have a six-year winning streak,' " Womer said. "I was told that we were supposed to lose. It was exciting. It was so loud. Everyone was screaming, and coach D was pacing back and forth. My old high school team was not in a fast league, so it wasn't as competitive as the Chatham swim team is. I don't think I've ever been in a meet like that. Two teams, head and head."
Womer's drive to win reminds DiGiacomo of the Sylvester Stallone movie "Over the Top," where Stallone plays an arm wrestler.
"Stallone wears a hat in the movie and the line is that he turns into a completely different person when he turns his hat around and gets ready to compete," DiGiacomo said. "There are two different Hannahs. The one who works hard in practice and hangs out with the team and the one whose eyes light up as soon as she puts her goggles on to race. When Hannah lined up with (Davis) for the anchor leg, I was confident we were going to win."
Hannah's family moved to Chatham from San Jose Almaden because of her father's work. Aside from the weather (a cold day is 50 degrees where she comes from), the biggest adjustment was swimming indoors. All her swimming had been in outdoor pools until this year.
"Indoor swimming is weird," Womer said. "It took me a little while to get used to breathing the indoor air. I always swam outdoors. I don't own a rain jacket. I just got a puffy jacket and rain boots."
There also was some shock for Womer when she showed up for her first practice with the Berkeley Aquatic Club.
"First practice the coach said that warmup was three 400s, and I started laughing because I thought he was joking," Womer said. "He told me that he was not joking. I came from a sprint team, so I wasn't used to that."
Womer's high school team was also very different. They had swimmers in different events, but not a "team" per say.
"Here in Chatham we really have a team to carry us," Womer said. "We have a pretty stacked team. The environment makes it so much fun. The most points one individual person can score is 10 points, so it really is a team sport."
DiGiacomo has the luxury of putting Womer into almost any event and knowing that she will do well. Womer excels in freestyle and the 200 breaststroke, but isn't sure what her best event is.
"A lot of people say that they hit their peak when they were 12," Womer said. "That's when I started swimming."
The 400 free relay race that Chatham won over Scotch Plains last Thursday