Jack Aikins was about to take his next step.
For over a year, West Forsyth’s top swimmer was preparing for the chance of a lifetime — an appearance at the US Olympic Trials this summer. But after all the training and hard work he’d put in, the unthinkable happened.
That event, along with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics entirely, were postponed a year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I was just kind of shocked because it seemed like something that big couldn't be postponed or canceled,” Aikins said. “It didn't seem real to me at first. It seemed like a dream, and I was going to wake up the next day and it'd be fine. There's nothing we can do about it now. We can just train the best we can for next year and work our hardest and just be prepared when the time comes.”
But until Aikins gets a chance to
compete at that level, he certainly has a lot to look back on when he remembers
his junior high school season at West. Individually, Aikins placed first at the
state meet in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races, and along with his
teammates, he helped set a new state record in the 200-yard freestyle relay. He
attained automatic All-American status in all four of his individual events.
Aikins and his group made history at the Forsyth County meet, too, with their final race of that night finally dethroning a Lambert squad that had a stranglehold on the county title for over a decade.
“This is obviously the best year we've ever had on the men's side and the women's side, too,” Aikins said. “I feel like our whole team is really proud of that. We had a goal since last the last county meet to win it. We all kind of came together, not just our top guys. Everyone was pushing each other and everyone was scoring as many points as they could. At state, it was the best finish we've ever had as well, so we're really proud of that.”
Aikins saw a marked improvement in his performance as a junior. This year marked the first time he’s hit the 19-second mark in the 50 freestyle. His individual goals at next year’s state meet are clear to him, and they’re lofty. He’s looking to get the national records for the 50 and 100 freestyle.
“I've been doing a lot more sprint training through Swim Atlanta this year, and I think that's probably what helped me,” Akins said.
While his dreams of competing at the Olympic Trials have been temporarily dashed, Aikins is choosing to try to look past the inherent disappointment. There’s also a potential silver lining: He’ll have another year to prepare and raise his expectations even higher.
“Now that it's been postponed, I kind of have mixed feelings about it,” Aikins said. “I'm a little bit disappointed, but I'm kind of glad that I'll have another year of training and stuff. I'll be a senior in high school when I'm going for trials next year. I'll be a lot stronger, a lot faster and I think I can probably make top eight at Olympic Trials.”
If all goes according to plan, that’ll come after his final year as a Wolverine, when he’ll look to bring himself and his teammates to even greater heights.
“(This year’s) still the best West has ever done, the best I've ever done,” Aikins said. “I feel like that's something to be proud of, even if I won't be able to go to Olympic Trials this summer. I can look back on that and just be happy with what I've done.”