She cut through the water in the pool on this warm July day feeling as if the pressure of the world had sunk to the bottom.
Abby Hay was relaxed, focused on her swimming and just cutting it loose in this event.
When her hand touched the wall, and her head popped out of the water, she looked up at the time clock inside the Knoxville, Tenn., pool and had to squint to make sure her eyes were not playing tricks on her.
They were not.
And it suddenly hit Hay that she had qualified for the Olympic trials in the 400-meter individual medley.
“Honestly, I was shocked,” said Hay. “I never thought it would happen there.”
Hay’s time was .47 faster than the USA swimming trials standard for women in the 400 IM. And while it didn’t hit her right away, she had also achieved a rare feat from a family point of view.
Hay’s father, Tom, also qualified for the Olympic trials during his swimming career. The two would have a lot to talk about at the dinner table.
Abby Hay honed her swimming skills in the Peters Township program. She spent the last two years of high school at the Hawken School in Gates Mills, in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. She was an outstanding swimmer at both places and was one of the highest-ranked recruits in the nation.
When she settled on the University of Louisville, she thought life couldn’t get any better. But it did.
“When I visited Louisville, it just felt right,” she said. “I knew it was the right place for me.”
In her freshman and sophomore seasons at Peters Township High School, Hay was a three-time WPIAL Class AAA individual champion. She won the 200 IM and 500 free as a freshman in 2016 and repeated in the 500 free in 2017.
Then, she made a decision that was not only difficult but risky.
She followed her head coach, Todd Clark, to the Hawken School for the final two seasons of her high school career. She was a part of two state relay records at the 2018 Ohio State Division II swimming and diving championships and she won two silver individual medals.
Hay was the Ohio state champion in the 200 IM and runner-up in the 100 butterfly as a senior.
“That was a difficult decision,” said Hay. “I liked Peters Township, but I thought it was the best decision for me.”
Hawken is a nationally known private school near Cleveland and is one of the dominating swimming programs in the nation.
“It was a difficult decision,” said Tom Hay. “She wanted to follow the current coach to a program that has won 20-some (state team) titles. But I think she’ll tell you that it was worth it, with where she ended up. It was a big culture change for her educationally and in swimming.”
Her accomplishments in swimming earned her a resolution from the Ohio state general assembly, commending her on her success.
The 2020 Olympic trials will be held June 21-28 in Omaha, Neb.
“They actually built a pool inn the middle of an arena just for the trials,” she said.
Her father was a five-time WPIAL champion, a five-time PIAA champion and was an eight-time All-American. In 1989, he set a PIAA record of 48.62 in the 100-yard butterfly that lasted 21 years until broken in 2010.
“I saw his name on the record board every time I went to practice,” Abby Hay said. “As my name started going up on the board, it hit me that I could do some of the same things he did. Maybe even more, because I’m not done.”
Tom Hay graduated from Peters Township before heading to the University of Michigan, where he had a remarkable swimming career. Tom Hay was a member of five Big Ten championship teams and received 4 NCAA All-American awards.
And he qualified for the 1992 Olympic trials, which were held in Indianapolis.
“The times are a lot faster now,” he said. “But the selection process is nearly identical.”
Tom Hay has some good advice for dad for his daughter.
“Have fun,” he said.
“She’s not going in with the expectation of making the team. But she can still do very well. Finishing first or second, that’s really, really hard. She’s young and four years from now, you can try again. You never know.“
Tom Hay is married to Kathy Knabb, an outstanding runner at Peters Township High School and the brother of J.J. Knabb, the football coach at Bentworth High School.
Abby Hay swims year round, the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins her last club team.
At Louisville, she is pursuing a chemical engineering degree. As one might guess, there is a lot to think about before heading to the trials.
“Even before trials, there are ACCs, NCAAs, all the dual meets, so there’s a lot,” she said. “I have goals and I’m going to go over them with my coach in a meeting. We all do that. I’m taking it one day at a time. One of our team motos is, ‘Get a little better every day and eventually it wall add up.’”