LAKELAND — When Angelique Benda arrived at her first swim practice three years ago, she had no idea what she was doing. But now she is ready to tear down a Lakeland City Meet record.
But Benda didn’t start out that fast.
As a freshman looking for a new sport, she wandered into a George Jenkins swim practice and had a tough first day in the pool.
“I had tried softball. I tried soccer. I tried it all and it didn’t work for me. Then I tried swimming,” said Benda, 17, who will hit the water competing in only freestyle events this season, including the 50, 100 and 200 and both the 200- and 400-free relays. “I didn’t even know what freestyle was my freshman year. The first day of practice Coach Jenn (Gosline) told us to pick a lane and jump in it, and I picked the fastest lane, which was a very big mistake. But now I am in the fastest lane, leading it.”
A determined-quick study, Benda became the county champion in the 100 freestyle (57.91), runner-up in the 50 free (26.78) and a led off the Eagles' county championship 200-free relay squad last year after just two-and-half seasons in the pool.
“When she arrived, she didn’t know how to blow air out of her nose when she flipped turned," Gosline said. "She didn’t know much at all. She struggled but she definitely showed potential. And now look at her."
At the Senior Champs meet in St. Petersburg this summer, Benda reached the finals — for the first time — in the 50 and 100 free and 50 backstroke. And now her fastest 50 free is 25.00, her fastest 100 free is 55.22 and her best 200 free is 2:00.
The Lakeland City Meet records for the 50 and 100 free are both held by Amanda Cokee Webster at 25.03 and 53.14 respectively, putting at least the 50 mark in reach of Benda when the meet arrives at Gandy Pool on Oct. 4.
“I am so close to going under two minutes in the 200. I really want to go for that. This year I really want to get under 25:00 and 2:00,” said Benda, who also collects swimsuits, having 50 pairs of her prized Jolyn suits. “I wear all of them. I don’t favor one over the other. They are all different colors and I just love them and the bright colors and wearing something different every day."
Benda also maintains a very healthy diet.
“I try to eat organic, fruits and vegetables," she said. "The refrigerator is stocked and I do believe I am the healthiest eater in my household.”