If there is anything to know about Duquesne rising junior swimmer Haley Scholer, it is how important feel is towards having success in the water and that even goes for walkout music.
As Scholer scrolled down her playlist she settled for Cody Johnson’s Welcome to the Show, which admittedly has nothing to do with swimming, but had a message that resonated with the Pennsylvanian as she prepared for what was to be the most important race of her career.
“It’s such a good song and talks about the hometown crowd being behind you and giving your all,” she stated. “It was cool that I could listen to that right before I swam. I had been listening to it the whole meet and I wasn’t sure what song I wanted to pick, but I scrolled through and picked that. It was perfect.”
When Scholer touched the wall of her 200 back finals at the Eastern Zone Championships in Buffalo with a time of 2:13:41, she looked at her coach Dave Sheets, who quickly checked the final time, arms repeatedly raised towards the heavens in celebration.
After seeing this, Scholar saw that the goal she has sought for nine years had been reached.
“I feel like at first you realize you get it, but you don’t really realize,” Scholer remarked. “In the next couple of days, I think it will set in a little more, but it still feels not real. It’s crazy that nine years later, it’s all paid off. I feel a little relieved and I’m excited, I just can’t wait to wait for next year. Swimming next to these amazing people is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
🏊♀️ 𝐎𝐋𝐘𝐌𝐏𝐈𝐂 𝐓𝐑𝐈𝐀𝐋𝐒 𝐐𝐔𝐀𝐋𝐈𝐅𝐈𝐄𝐑!
Congratulations to Haley Scholer for qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 200 back with a 2:13.41 at the Eastern Senior Zone Championships over the weekend!
— Duquesne Swim & Dive (@DuqSwimDive) August 8, 2023
Scholer is the second Duquesne swimmer to make an Olympic trial as Emma Brinton did the same in 2020 when she swam the 200 IM.
As she processed the news, Scholar first reached out to her training partner Reagan Linkous who has been there at every turn. It was then that her phone endlessly buzzed with texts and calls, the most she has ever received.
“I was starstruck, it was so cool,” said Scholer. “Everyone that raced with me was so nice and congratulated me. It goes back to my team being a big support for me and to share that moment with her even though she wasn’t there was awesome. Seeing my parents’ reaction was so cool, they’ve been with me this whole time and it was cool to see they were so proud of me, and all of their traveling really paid off.”
WORKING ON THE PROCESS
Duquesne Swimming Coach Dave Sheets stood close by watching Scholer race, but his daughter Lainey was also competing in the same heat, so the balance between coach mode and dad mode quickly came into question.
As Scholer progressed it was clear that coach mode won out and even back home, Sheets’ wife Tilly admitted the same days after the fact.
Sheets and later on assistant coach Eddie Larios have both been consistent supports of Scholer’s journey to see her goal through.
When Scholer was a freshman at Duquesne, she recalled a very early conversation with Sheets where she clearly stated her goal of reaching an Olympic trial.
Sheets said that her deciding to stay the summer as a freshmen showed just committed, she was towards achieving her goals and set her apart from others who had similar aspirations but were not ready to make the sacrifice of leaving both family and home life behind.
For Scholer the decision for her to remain at Duquesne over the summer was a no brainer.
“I can’t imagine my life without some sort of swimming in it,” she determined. “I was given the opportunity to train in the summer and pursue this goal. Dave and I had a meeting at the beginning of freshmen year, and I told him that this was my goal and he told me if we were going to do it, we were going to do it right and I should stay and train in the summer. It definitely paid off.”
Sheets previously trained Brinton and made the determination from that experience that placing Scholer in several races was not the way to go. He laid out a clear blueprint in hopes of achieving success and when adversity hit, he also used Brinton as both a resource and second opinion.
Scholer had the blueprint, but throughout the process she also had a role model in five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin.
She cited the movie Touch the Wall as a motivation and proved that by explaining she has a poster of the film in addition to a swimming cap Franklin signed.
“Seeing her and she’s also a backstroker inspired me that this was something I wanted to do,” beamed Scholer. “Having role models in the sport is such a big thing, especially someone who has struggled and watching it in a movie was awesome for me, especially being so young.”
An additional challenge Scholer and all Duquesne swimmers this summer faced was construction on Towers Pool, meaning everyone had to travel to four different pools to get work in.
The first week featured three different schedules, as Duquesne utilized water time at Chartiers Valley, Carnegie Mellon, Chatham and Scott Township.
With both Larios and Sheets, there was an adjustment period for them to determine the best course of action with Scholer, but she continuously credits them for helping her breakthrough and reach her goals.
When Scholer was able to return home, her club coach Crystal Keelan built on the workouts utilizing Sheets’ blueprint in addition to what the team was already working on.
A clear turning point occurred for Scholer a couple of weeks ago during a meet at West Virginia where she was not concerned about time and had emptied her mind to focus on feel and fun. When she finished a half second shy of an Olympic trial time, she was surprised and realized how close she was to making this a reality.
Shortly after that meet was the Futures meet in Richmond where Scholer admitted she overthought and stressed herself out. The meet was an “eye-opening” event and the week leading up to Buffalo was a clear reset.
Sheets challenged Scholer to flip the script in how she approached a race, which was mainly a cue to get back to her principles of feel.
“Every time you fail you learn something,” Sheets said. “We had to take what we learned from every failure and carry it into the next race. When came back from Futures and went back to work for that one week, I didn’t even put a stopwatch on her, it was about getting a feel for the water. We put tennis balls in her hands, put mittens on her hands, just to get that feel. Whether that helped or not, she was in a much better place mentally when we got to Buffalo.”
Following the race, Scholer had a new challenge, learning to relax.
Scholer was able to return back home, but even a few days later she was back around the water as she was sitting beside the beach when doing the phone interview for this story.
Sheets’ directive after the race was to try and avoid the water for a week and Scholer plans on relaxing and then ramping back up when she returns to campus with her team.
She will use the 10-month gap to her advantage as she will compete alongside her teammates, with an attempt for an Olympic trial time in the 100-backstroke come December.
“The big thing is riding off this summer in the sense of training really hard, everything was difficult and that will benefit me a lot,” concluded Scholer. “I feel as though I’m in the best shape of my life after this summer. There is a long-course meet in December, so that’s where I go for that 100-back cut. The big thing is going to be not hyping it up too much, just going out there and showing and trying to reflect what my training has been these past couple of months.”
After Scholer successfully touched the wall in Buffalo to secure a first-place finish and move on to the Olympic Trials in 10 months’ time, Sheets had one simple question.
“Was it all worth it,” he asked.
“Absolutely,” came the immediate response.