Holland couple’s grandchild to swim for University of Houston

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Editor’s note: Brittany Copeland is the granddaughter of Holland residents Enoch and Jean Copeland. She used to train at the Franklin YMCA pool when visiting her grandparents on vacation.

WAKE FOREST, N.C.—Sometimes, if you want something to happen, you have to create your own luck.

That best describes how Wakefield,

N.C., resident Brittany Copeland is headed back home, sort of, to the University of Houston.

As her decorated year-round swimming career came to a close this spring, Copeland found herself without a place to paddle forward.

&uot;There were no schools looking at me,&uot; Copeland said. &uot;I mean, it was a little surprising; I’m a good swimmer, I get good grades, and my coaches said I should expect a lot of interest.&uot;

But just a few months before graduation, the former Cap-7 Conference 50m freestyle champion wasn’t being courted by any schools.

And to make things more difficult, she missed the registration date for senior sectionals in Atlanta, a meet that usually draws plenty of interest from collegiate coaches.

&uot;That could have been my meet; I should have been at it,&uot; Copeland said with assurance.

Without senior sectionals to hang her hat on, Copeland began working the phones of friends already swimming collegiately, including Maryanne Ortiz, a student at the University of Houston.

&uot;I’d call them up and be like, ‘If you all need sprinters, there’s Brittany Copeland; make sure to tell your coaches.’&uot;

Copeland also struck up conversations with New York University and Florida A&M coaches on her own.

Entering the final meet of the year, her only scheduled recruiting trip to the University of Houston just a few weeks away, Copeland had a lot on her mind — but still swam her best times of the season.

&uot;I just busted out these great times,&uot; Copeland said calmly.

Which didn’t surprise her year-round coach, Ed Lower.

&uot;Nothing really phases her,&uot; Lower said. &uot;She’s one of those people where when the competition gets harder, she pulls it together.

&uot;Pressure doesn’t bother her.&uot;

&uot;God set that up,&uot; she reasoned of her good showing. &uot;I was really bummed out about not getting to go to those meets, but He set it up that I would do my best right before I went on this recruiting trip.&uot;

The times paid off as the Houston coaches welcomed her with open arms.

&uot;It was kind of like me going back home,&uot; Copeland said of her visit to Houston, where she lived for six years as a preteen. &uot;The coaches were really enthusiastic about my trip.

&uot;And I can’t see how anyone couldn’t love Houston.&uot;

Copeland’s swimming story actually begins in Texas.

After moving from New Jersey to the suburbs of Chicago, then Charleston,

W.Va., Copeland’s parents, Penelope and Enrico, settled in Houston.

Believing their 8-year-old daughter needed to do something athletic, they signed her up for swimming lessons.

&uot;I only started swimming when I was a little kid because my parents thought I was too fat,&uot; she laughed.

After a few swimming lessons, coaches at the pool quickly recognized the young swimmer was picking up the skill quickly and talked Enrico into signing up his daughter for a team.

&uot;After that first practice, ‘I was like Oh, no, Dad, this is too hard,’&uot; Copeland remembers of her first team practice. &uot;But my dad was like, ‘I’ve already paid for the whole year, so you’re going to swim.’&uot;

After awhile, the practices grew easier, and Copeland got better.

After a few years in Houston, the Copelands decided to move east to Raleigh, N.C.

&uot;I didn’t want to move,&uot; she said. &uot;It felt like I was just starting to get friends in middle school, and then we moved. So, I was kind of like depressed for a little while; I didn’t want to swim that much.&uot;

But she continued to swim and found solace in her new swimming team, eventually setting records in the 400m freestyle relay as a 14-year-old.

Not all decisions in the pool have been easy for Copeland.

After Christmas break during her sophomore year, she was burned out and needed to step away from year-round swimming.

&uot;I was too stressed out between swimming and school, and there was a lot going on,&uot; Copeland said.

After completing her high school season in March, she didn’t touch the water besides a lap here and there for five months.

But by August and the beginning of a new school year, she was itching to get back.

&uot;Some of my friends were like, ‘Oh, you only came back because your parents told you to,’&uot; Copeland recalled.

&uot;But this was my decision; it was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, besides choosing a college.&uot;

Copeland said other activities — basketball, volleyball and dance — have grabbed her attention but only for awhile.

&uot;I came back to swimming because it’s the only thing I’ve known,&uot; she said.

But it wasn’t easy to transition into swimming after sitting out such a long time.

&uot;Swimming is like block scheduling in school,&uot; she reasoned. &uot;If you miss a day, it takes two days to get where you were. I missed eight months. It was rough.&uot;

She described junior year affectionately as &uot;hell.&uot;

&uot;I knew I was going to have to hurt myself to get back into shape,&uot; she said, but the work paid off. She qualified for junior nationals in the 50m freestyle.

The Orlando event, which draws some of the best swimmers 18-and-under, proved to be a great environment.

&uot;I didn’t make it into the finals or anything like that, but it was just a great experience for me,&uot; Copeland said. &uot;Before that, I didn’t really know what my competition was like, but afterward, I knew I had some work to do.&uot;

Copeland’s final year of school was a balancing act, juggling school, clubs and friends.

&uot;First semester, I had three honors classes, one AP class; it was ridiculous,&uot; she said. &uot;The first week of school it was easy because all they do is hand out papers, but then it got a lot tougher.&uot;

She also served as president of the National Achievers Society, a member of National Honor Society and worked at Optimist Park pool in Raleigh.

During the week, her routine was mostly practice, homework, find time to sleep.

But by December, things slowed down as she concentrated more on her college choices, and, of course, swim practice.

&uot;When you’re going to practice, you always ask yourself, ‘Why do I swim? Why do I swim?’&uot; she said.

The answer, Copeland said, is the rush of competition.

&uot;I want to be the first one to raise my hand,&uot; she said. &uot;I love to win.

&uot;Just to be able to beat someone — by even one-hundredth of a second — it’s crazy; it doesn’t get any better.&uot;

Now, her competitive streak is leading her back to Houston, where it began for her.