As only an underclassman, Jackson girls swimming sophomore Ava Walters has started to build a legacy that future Indians coming through the program will probably look at as a career to try and replicate.
“I feel like my success inspires other girls,” Walters said. “It makes me really happy knowing I can help them be more motivated in swimming.”
This began last season when Walters broke the school’s all-time 100-yard backstroke record with a time of 58.97 seconds, which she accomplished at the Class 2 State Meet last winter. This earned Ava seventh place to receive her first all-state medal, and she will be competing at state in two events again this weekend.
Walters officially qualified for state in the 100 backstroke as well as the 200 individual medley. These were the same two events Ava competed in the Class 2 meet last year as she took ninth in the individual medley at 2:13.1.
“I’ve been swimming backstroke for most of my life — it’s always been my favorite event, so I’ve gradually gotten faster at it,” Walters said. “I like every stroke, so that’s why I really like the 200IM, too.
In last week’s SEMO Conference Meet, Walters added to her conference trophy case by taking gold in the 100 backstroke at 1:00.32. She also earned silver medals in the 200 freestyle (2:05.24) and as a member of both the 200 freestyle relay (1:53.01) and 200 medley relay (2:01.84) teams.
On these relay teams with Walters were Jackson seniors Courtney Huckabee, Maddie Dean and junior Emma Morris. The Indians took third place overall in the conference meet with a score of 334, Cape Central won at 564.5 and Poplar Bluff took second overall with a final score of 362.5.
“I feel like I’ve really improved this year because I’ve been dropping my times and getting better gradually over the season,” Ava said. “My team really motivates me because they always have my back. Every time I do well, they always come up around me, tell me that I did well and hug me. That just helps me.”
Ava was the SEMO Conference MVP last winter when she won both of her individual events, and she qualified for state in every event possible. Walters could only select to compete in two events individually, though.
“It’s really different competing in all the events — it’s hard training for all of them,” Ava said. “Once you get the hang of it, though, it gets easier. I don’t think anybody realizes how much work you actually have to put in to this sport.”
Walters couldn’t exactly pinpoint what age she started swimming competitively, but she’s been doing it for most of her life.
What Ava enjoys the most about the sport are her teammates because of the friendships she’s been able to make through swimming. Along with that, Walters simply loves being in the water.
One person who has motivated Ava throughout her swimming career is her older brother Brayden Walters, who serves as an assistant coach for Jackson.
“[Brayden being one of my coaches] is different, and I had to get used to it because he’s my brother and now he’s being the boss of me,” Walter laughed. “It’s been good, though.”
Ava, of course, has aspirations to swim collegiately as her dreams of doing so began last season. It’s not something that’s set in stone, but Walters knows going into college and being on a swimming team would really help her.
One swimmer Walters looks up to is seven-time Olympic Gold Medalist Katie Ledecky because of how much work she puts into the sport as well as her motivated mentality.