CHATHAM, NJ - Hailey Harkins didn't see it coming, and neither did her coach, Frank DiGiacomo. Georgetown University wasn't aware of it either when it recruited her.
No one, least of all Harkins, figured that one of her best events for the Chatham High swim team would become the backstroke during her senior year.
"My favorite stroke, it's kind of changed," Harkins said. "It used to be butterfly but now I've recently found that it's the backstroke. I've always been a butterflier. It's exciting to see what I can do in the backstroke because it's so new. I just recently started swimming that in high school meets, which is fun because we have so much depth I wasn't needed anymore in the fly."
On Dec. 19 in a meet against Morristown, Harkins became the fastest 100-yard backstroke swimmer in school history with a record time of 58.43.
"It wasn't on my radar at all," she said of the record. "I couldn't have done it without everyone there cheering me on."
Last week, she displayed her versatility in a big win over state-ranked Scotch Plains-Fanwood with a first in the 200 individual medley and a second in the backstroke. She also swam on undefeated Chatham's winning relays in the 200 medley and 400 free.
Hailey Harkins is the Chatham Wealth Management Athlete of the Week.
"She's a very selfless swimmer," DiGiacomo said. "She's one of those swimmers that every coach loves to have. She's one of the hardest workers and she's been one of the most consistent swimmers since her freshman year. She leads by example and kindness. She's the first one to approach someone after a bad swim and make them smile and feel better."
DiGiacomo had to smile when Harkins approached her last year about throwing her into the backstroke to help the team.
"Hailey can swim anything that we ask her to do and swim it very, very well," DiGiacomo said.
Harkins swims seven times a week over six days (twice on Thursday) and has made her mark swimming with the Somerset Valley YMCA. But there is something about swimming with the Cougars that brings out the best in her.
"Club swimming, it's more individualized," the 17-year-old said. "Here, I think more about the team. I don't feel like there's pressure on myself because I have a whole team to back me up. They helped me get that record. Those intense meets just get your adrenaline pumping.
"I genuinely love going to practice and seeing how fast I can finish a set. High school just brings this whole team aspect that you don't have in club and that's what college (Georgetown) is going to be like."
Harkins is also less than a second away from the 200 IM Chatham record that is held by Hannah Womer, who now swims for Florida State. She's not thinking of that record right now. She's concentrating on getting faster in the backstroke.
"I've been working on my technique a lot," she said. "You have to have good rotation, the right kick. I focus mostly on my walls and the underwaters."
Harkins' secret is that she stays underwater on her turns nearly twice as long as most swimmers.
"Everyone is much faster underwater than they are on top," Harkins said. "So I figured the longer I stay under the faster I'll be. I do like seven or eight kicks before I come up to the surface. Most probably surface after four kicks."
Harkins started out her Chatham High career with a state championship her freshman year, contributing a first-place finish in the 100 butterfly when the Cougars defeated Ocean City in the 2017 Public B state final.
"I remember at the state finals we actually swept the 100 fly," Harkins said. "It was me, Nicole Tingley and Olivia Polemeni. I don't even remember who got what. I just remember we went 1-2-3."
One of her goals is to bookend her Chatham High career with a state championship in her final season.
"The reason she swims the IM so often is because she doesn't have a weak stroke," DiGiacomo said. "She's the first one to ask if she thinks there is anything wrong with her strokes. The only thing I tell her is to swim faster."
Harkins isn't the only athlete in the family. Her mother, Suzanne, was a diver at Stony Brook University and her younger sister, Kiera, is a 12-year-old butterflier.
Editor's note: The Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Chatham Wealth Management in recognition of the commitment a Chatham athlete has made to their sport, their school and their community. For over twenty years, Chatham Wealth Management has been committed to putting our clients first by crafting customized investment solutions. Call us at 973-635-4275 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help meet your financial goals. To learn more about our products and team, visit us at www.chathamwealth.com.