Columbus North senior Cody Taylor was swimming as fast as he could on Saturday, facing the unknown.
Now if this happened to be the ocean and not the IUPUI Natatorium pool, the unknown might have been sharks.
In this case, the man-sharks were on either side of him, and they were seeking the kill in the 100-yard breaststroke finals of the Indiana High School Athletic Association state boys swimming meet.
Taylor, Columbus North’s other-worldly boys swimming standout ... not as tall as Michael Phelps but with more muscles ... had more on his mind than a state championship. He wasn’t thinking about his opponents.
He was thinking about time.
No, not trying to see Brazil before he turns 30 kind of time. It’s the tick-tick-tick of the stopwatch.
He wanted to swim a sub-54.00 time.
If that 54.00 clicked to 53-point-anything, oh my gosh. Swimming nirvana.
Taylor had set a state record in the event during the state preliminaries on Friday in 54.56, but it wasn’t enough to fill his competitive thirst. He wanted more, and he wasn’t thinking about his place in the event. He was thinking about a place in state history.
The catch, though, is a swimmer can get caught up in trying to aim for the stars. He can sink himself if he sets such an early grueling pace that he burns himself out for the finish. Taylor went the first 50 yards in 25.74, a half-second faster than the previous night.
Now a half-second to most of us, when used in reference in getting from the couch to the fridge, might seem like the blink of an eye. To a swimmer, a half-second drop in time might represent a year of grueling workouts or more. And to drop that much time early in a race means a swimmer will be in uncharted waters late.
When Taylor turned for home and those final 25 yards, he had forged a lead about the length of a cough.
Taylor, in Lane 4, was head-to-head with Avon’s Christian Lorenz in Lane 3 and Bloomington South’s Ian Finnerty in Lane 5. You see, usually when an athlete gets squeezed between a pair of opponents during a race, it tends to make him work harder. Think of a horse race, when the one caught in the middle usually gives way. Or perhaps a mile run in track, where the contest pressure from opponents on either side takes a physical and emotional toll.
Not for Taylor.
Trust in swimming takes its own form. At Columbus North, it usually means following a designed plan that results in a certain stopwatch time when all is said and done. Taylor knew he had done the work, and that if he could turn for home even or a bit in front, he would have the strength to finish what he started.
As Taylor made that final push for home, it was Lorenz, who finally placed second, and Finnerty, who finished third, who couldn’t stand the pace. Taylor started to inch away, and the inevitable was about to happen. He won, in 54.24, a new state record, again.
The Columbus North swim team had another state champion, another amazing feat to go up on its wall of fame.
But after accepting his medal, posing proudly on the podium and swimming a leg of the 400 free relay, Taylor admitted he wanted that darned time. Fifty-three-and-change sounds so much better than 54. Doesn’t it?
To most of the world, no, not really. But to the swimmer with the heart of a lion, one who is headed to Indiana University and perhaps success on an international level, numbers mean everything.
Hopefully, for just a short period of time, Taylor can take a moment to relax, put away the stopwatch and give himself a pat on the back.
For those chanting “Cody ... Cody ... Cody” on Saturday in the crowd at IUPUI and those in the community who have followed his career, there is a number that should make him proud.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.