Skyler Lyon’s journey to a state championship
Apr 29, 2020 11:37AM
By Travis Barton
The breaststroke and 50-yard freestyle were Skyler’s favorite events. (Photo courtesy Skyler Lyon’s swim friends)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
Editor’s note: with spring sports being shut down, the City Journals is looking back at athletes who achieved great accomplishments throughout the school year.
In elementary school, when Skyler Lyon would enter swim races, she would give an age older than what she was. That way, she said, she could “race the faster kids.” Eventually she would just write to put her in the boys races so she could also “race faster kids.”
It was the summer of 2016. Andrew Powers had finished his first year as the Riverton High School swim coach. During a summer workout, one of his captains, Trevor Maxfield, introduced him to a young Skyler Lyon, who was about to start her freshman year.
“Watch out for this one,” Powers recalled being told by Maxfield. “She’s going to do great things.”
It’s Feb. 15, 2020, at the Brigham Young University swimming pool in Provo for the 6A state championships. Lyon is a senior and after having taken 11th her freshman year, third her sophomore year and second her junior year in the 200-yard breaststroke, she takes state her senior year beating her closest competitor by nearly two seconds.
“It was just such a rewarding feeling since that’s what I’ve been working toward for a while,” Lyon said. “Everything had paid off, and it just felt really good to be at the top.”
If you asked her mom, Brenda Lyon, she could have told you how it would end.
“It was a build up from her freshman year,” she said. “She went to state every year, got better and better each year, so senior year we just knew it was going to happen, and it did. Everything fell into place, and it was just awesome to see.”
Lyon’s state title in the 200 breaststroke wasn’t her only accomplishments in Provo that day. In addition to taking bronze in the 200 individual medley, she broke the 6A state record in the 50 freestyle. Doing so as part of the 200 freestyle relay, Lyon swam the first leg at 24.90, beating the state record by .01 seconds.
“I hit the wall … I looked at the time and was so happy it wasn’t a 24.92 or something,” Lyon said. “I was so stoked.”
It was a time she’s wanted since freshman year. It’s also a time that would have won her the 50 free race, but she chose to do the 200 IM instead.
“The 50 free and breaststroke are her best races, and that's what shined at state this year for sure,” Powers said.
After four years of setting goals and working to help her as a coach, Powers was happy to see Lyon’s dedication come to fruition.
“It's kind of like watching your little sister or family work so hard for these goals for four years and then finally watching them happen,” Powers said.
Entering the pool
Lyon’s laps in the pool started long before she attended Riverton High.
She was swimming on her own at age 4, and she remembers taking the advanced swim lessons repeatedly. “I loved it so much, we didn’t know there was a swim team, so we just kept putting me in those same swim lessons,” she said.
She joined her first swim team in kindergarten but attempted a different activity the next year.
“I tried dancing in first grade, and I definitely knew that wasn't for me,” she said. “I got on stage and just stood there and kind of forgot everything.”
It was swimming from then on.
When Lyon was a freshman, Powers remembers how shy and hesitant she was, not knowing anybody on the team. If not for her mom forcing her, she might have skipped the first overnight invitational they went to.
“I never tried talking to people; I was scared,” Lyon recalled. “But the swim team kids are so good at socializing and so good at bringing new kids into their groups.”
As she came out of her shell, people gravitated to her, Powers said.
Though Lyon enjoys the individual nature of swimming, it was something else that drew her to the pool.
“I love the adrenaline of racing,” she said. “I just love having someone right next to me, and I'm really competitive, so I just love racing.”
This might explain why she loves shorter races—much more than anything long distance. (“I hate the 500 free,” she said.)
“I love all the sprint races,” Lyon said. “If I could do a 50 of each stroke in high school, I would do it for sure.”
For Lyon, sprints are her natural inclination.
“The adrenaline pumping and you give it all you got for that short amount,” she said. “I don't like having to try and hold a pace for a long time because I'm a person that goes out really fast.”
The irony is that Powers described “pacing and being able to hold it” as one of Lyon’s best attributes but also as something she’s practiced throughout her high school career.
Lyon said it took time to control that adrenaline and not overexert herself too soon.
“Once I get into a groove of things, I can just feel it; I know what feels right,” she said. “I just feel a certain rhythm when I swim.”
Breaststroke and legacy
While she loves all strokes — it’s why she chose to race the IM this past season — breaststroke is perhaps her true calling in the water.
“It’s totally about technique,” Lyon said, noting it’s the worst stroke for most swimmers. She said everything counts down to the tiniest detail—where to place your hands, how to place your feet—in order to pull the water perfectly.
Powers said it’s her ability to hold the “very fast rate” at which she swims in one of the most tiring strokes.
“But for some reason she's able to pull extremely fast and get back into her gliding position faster than other people and still hold that throughout the whole race,” he said. “Her pace that she goes is good for say a 50 or a 25. She's able to do it for 100, and that's what set her apart throughout the whole season.”
Lyon leaves the program with her name splattered across the record book. She holds six of the 11 school records.
“I always made it a goal to knock off all the records; II wanted my name up there as much as possible,” she said. “I just wanted to be remembered, I guess. It's just satisfying to look up there and see my name.”
It’s part of her competitive DNA. Her dedication makes her the kind of swimmer every coach wants a full team of, Powers said.
“She's really good overall in a lot of different things, and each time, each race she always asks, ‘What's the record? What can I go for? What should I shoot for?’ which is always really cool to see as a coach,” Powers said.
For Lyon, her most memorable moment had nothing to do with records or an individual race. It was seeing both teams win region her sophomore year.
“It was just so crazy, and we all worked so hard for it,” she said. “It was just exciting to be able to see everyone having the same emotion and all the coaches getting pushed into the pool and everyone just celebrating together. It was really fun.”
Lyon plans to major in exercise science at Southern Utah University. She will keep swimming but not collegiately.
Powers said with her work ethic and intelligence, she would succeed in any career, especially if she applies the same dedication and drive that she showed in swimming.
“She's just a fantastic girl that cares a lot about her friends, her team, her family, school,” he said. “She's just an overall team player that if you're lucky to know her or be part of her life, you would know exactly what I'm talking about.”