In a back room at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center back in early February, the emotions of a rocky two years all began to flow back for North Forsyth’s Hailey Galbraith.
In that time, much of what the sophomore knew was physical and emotional pain. She’d dealt with a major injury that made her quit one sport, and to make it all worse, she had constant doubts about her future as a swimmer. But just by being at the state championship meet, some of that doubt had been lifted, even if the pain hadn’t completely vanished.
“In the waiting room, I was coughing, I was crying, I was nervous,” Galbraith said. “It wasn't enjoyable — I was so nervous that at that point I wasn't even ready to do it.”
Despite all of that, she willed herself out onto the competition floor, and what followed in the pool was a performance that she and the people around her didn’t see coming when the season began. By the end of the night, Galbraith, fresh off a hiatus in swimming, came away with a Class 7A state championship in the 50-yard girls freestyle and a runner-up finish in the 100-yard butterfly. It was the grand culmination of her long fight to come back.
“It's indescribable and unbelievable,” she said. “At two in the morning, I was just sitting there mouth open looking at my medals like, ‘Did this happen? Is this mine?’
“It makes up for so much practice, the hours you put into the pool, the tears you shed, the sweat you pour into it. Everything comes together and it's worth it.”
Getting to know...
Favorite social media platform: Instagram
Favorite non-social media app: Hay Day
Typical breakfast: Protein bar
Main sport of choice, if not swimming: Soccer
Favorite school subject: Math
Go-to Netflix show: That 70's Show
Galbraith juggled track and swimming in her freshman year at North. One day, she went to a track workout right after swimming. She was tired from swimming, and when she went to flip a tire, she felt something painful in her back. Thinking she could fight through the pain, she continued with the workouts, and the pain just got worse.
Initially, she had suffered a pars fracture on the right side of her back, and by continuing that day, the left side fractured as well. Two months after the initial break, she couldn’t stand up straight, and she had surgery in April 2018. Her track career was over, and she had to take a long break from swimming as well. When she finally came back to the pool before this season, the residual pain made that difficult, too.
“It's hard,” Galbraith said. “The whole time I was regretting it. I was like, 'I'm not going to be good like the other kids. These kids have two years on me.' I doubted myself. (I thought) I wasn't good enough, (that) this was all my fault. Maybe I shouldn't have done track.”
Galbraith’s expectations were understandably tempered to start the 2018-19 season. She, her coaches and teammates just wanted her to go out and have fun. But at the county meet on Jan. 9, Galbraith surprised herself, setting two county records in the 50 freestyle and the 100 butterfly. That performance was her turning point, and it changed the entire season’s outlook.
“(It was) a lot of adrenaline, definitely,” she said. “The nerves help and a good support system (helps) -- there was no one there saying, ‘Oh, you can't do it.’”
At the state championships, she bested her county performance. Her 23.74 50-yard freestyle in Atlanta broke her own record set at the county championships. Galbraith’s future looks brighter than it did just a year ago, but she knows her sophomore season will always stand out to her.
“It was just unbelievable,” Galbraith said. “There's no season that can top that season. The next two years are going to be hard to try and match that.”