WOODSTOCK -- The words didn’t come easy to Jeremy Racey at first.
Asked recently about what came to mind when he reflected on his final season of high school swimming, one that ended a few weeks prior with his first all-state medal in an individual event, the Central senior sat in silence for 10 seconds, breaking the lull to only say, “I’m going to have to think about that one.”
After another moment’s pause, Falcons head coach Steve Shaffer spoke up.
“It’s so overwhelming for him,” Shaffer said. “The main thing was he could barely swim the first day he came to practice four years ago, and he’s come so far and he’s never really looked beyond or looked at how good he really could be. And so again, it’s just kind of, every time he swam, he was a kid at Christmas. It just was very, very refreshing to have that joy every time he swam.”
Racey’s love of water and his enjoyment of swimming pushed him to take the plunge and give competitive swimming a try during his freshman year in 2015. Four years spent performing an activity he’s passionate about concluded with a bonus for Racey, the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2019 Boys Swimmer of the Year.
What appeared to Racey four years ago as “one of the wildest dreams,” one unattainable by a novice swimmer, became a reality last month when he placed among the top eight in the 100-yard freestyle at the Virginia High School League Class 2 State Championships in Richmond.
His fifth-place effort in the event, during which he posted a new personal-best time of 51.30 seconds in the finals, earned him his first and only all-state medal in an individual event in his fourth and final trip to the state championships.
“I just knew it’d be the last time that I’d be swimming 100 individually,” said Racey, who also helped the Falcons’ 200-free and 400-free relay teams take eighth place at the meet, “and I said ‘leave it in the water. There it is, waiting for you. Catch it.’”
Racey had come oh so close to grabbing a state medal his junior season, just missing the cut for the championship finals in the 100 backstroke by three-hundredths of a second. At the time it was a source of frustration, he said, and that memory contributed to the leave-it-all-in-the-pool mentality he took to Richmond as a senior.
It also showcased a character trait that would reappear at the state meet a year later. After just missing a top-eight finish in the 100 back prelims in 2018, Racey came back that evening and posted a faster time in the consolation finals race -- a time that rebroke the school record in the 100 back that he’d set as a sophomore -- to win that heat and place ninth overall. He faced a similar scenario last month when he placed 10th in the 50 free state prelims, which knocked him out of contention for a second all-state medal.
Racey decided then that he’d readjust his goals, and instead of sulking, he’d aim to win the consolation finals in the 50 free, a feat that would be his personal pat on the back. Racey achieved that, knocking three-hundredths off his preliminary time and placing ninth with a time of 23.35 seconds.
“I always try to look at it differently. Instead of not meeting your first goal and getting mad at yourself, take a step back and say OK, now that I see where I am, what can I do that is a very achievable goal but still have to work hard to achieve it?” Racey said. “Meeting that goal is just as important as meeting the first goal. I may have not gotten a medal, but I am very proud of my ninth place because I know I worked very hard to get that.”
Racey’s senior season included a fourth-place effort in the 50 free at the Region 2B championships, and he contributed to third-place finishes in two relays -- the 200 medley and 200 free -- at the meet.
Racey could’ve chased even more individual medals at the state meet -- he also qualified in the 100 back and the 100 butterfly -- but he chose to forgo the 100 back, which Shaffer said has been Racey’s best event in his four seasons with the Falcons, because of its location between the 200 free and 400 free relays.
Competing in all three events in such a short span is nearly impossible, Shaffer said, and the two freestyle relays represented the best chance for fellow Falcon seniors Roberto Falzarano and Daryen Stanley and sophomore Jonathan Morel to snag state medals.
“It was difficult but I thought for the sake of me and because of the two relays it was just gonna be hard,” Racey said of giving up the 100 back at the state meet. “I just said whatever would be best, I can work with whichever. It’s gonna be difficult either way because either way I’m giving up a race that I like, so it’s just step back, you make the choice, I’m not gonna be mad with either.”
Racey’s choice fit in with the team-first attitude that’s marked his four-year swim career at Central, and it was a prime example of the lead-by-example approach he took to his role as a senior this past season.
“I know that his work ethic is something to very much strive for,” Shaffer said, “and he’s just a great guy. And so much of it is just the chemistry of the team. It is a very close group. We spend a lot of time together. … I look at it as kind of a laboratory. I just stir the pot every once in a while and the kids just, their own personalities come out, and he’s just one of a great group of kids.”
Racey said he will attend Randolph-Macon College in the fall, and his college plans include swimming for the Yellow Jackets.
“I’m excited but it’s gonna be hard because I’m gonna have to adapt to another team,” Racey said. “I really like this team and it’s just gonna be hard because even swimming there, I’m gonna be thinking about coach Shaffer and everyone else. The first year is definitely gonna be really hard to transition to there, and not just because of physically swimming but the emotions that I’m gonna feel from switching to a different team, getting to know new people.”