November 5, 2013 10:44:13 AM
Corey Persons has lived in a world where infinitesimal increments of time have consumed his thinking ever since he joined Swim Columbus, a local club for swimming enthusiasts.
But Persons didn't realize the importance of those seemingly inconsequential seconds when he first started swimming. Thirteen years ago, Persons wasn't any good -- and called himself a "pip squeak" -- so he never imagined he would have any reason to consider one second as something that would occupy a prominent place in his head, let alone help him win a state championship.
But faced with the prospect of winning another state title, Persons, a senior at Columbus High School, used his years of swimming experience to determine one second was what it was going to take for him to reach his goal.
A year after winning the 100-yard backstroke at the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class II state championship, Persons regrouped from a preliminary swim in which he qualified sixth to record a personal-best time of 54.37 seconds to win his second-consecutive state crown last month.
"At the start of the season, I really didn't know where I was going to go," Persons said. "Ultimately, it came down to the finals and I looked at what the competition did in the preliminaries and I gaged myself and I called out what I had to do."
Persons remembers telling Columbus coach Jessica James, a former swimmer at Columbus High and a former teammate of Persons with Swim Columbus, that he needed to crack the 55-second barrier and finish in the 54-second range if he wanted to win another title. He realized the other competitors likely weren't going to swim faster than 55 seconds, so he pushed himself where the others wouldn't be able to reach.
"I was looking on what they were assumed to do based on earlier that day," Persons said. "The 54 was obvious that they would be really tired after a day of swimming, and (two) it was a personal goal because I had been stuck on a 55 for a year, so I was like, 'I have a milestone I can make here,.' It came down right before the race that it could go one way or another. ... I set myself up so they wouldn't know how fast I was going and I wouldn't see how fast they were going so no matter what I could tell myself I don't know what they're going to do, but I have to focus on myself and say I have to do what I have to do to satisfy myself and push the limits in my own little bubble."
Persons' time eclipsed the state record of 55.36 he set in 2012. He said breaking that mark wasn't a concern. His only concern was swimming fast enough to secure that one-second difference he figured he would need to take home the crown.
Looking back, Persons said training for the past two Possum Town Triathlons in Columbus helped him build leg strength. He said that training, especially his work on the bicycle, helped him overcome a shoulder injury that limited his time to train in the pool for his senior season. When he watched a replay of the winning race, Persons was proud to see his legs kicking throughout the race to propel him to the victory.
James, who also competed in the 100 back, has watched Persons mature from a beginner to an accomplished competitor. She also was a member of the Columbus High swimming team as a senior when Persons was a seventh-grader on the team. She said it was special for her to be able to share the championship experience with Persons.
"It is so great for me to see how much he has grown and how far he has come," James said. "His hard work and his dedication really are things to admire. I think he has a very bright future ahead of him. I am glad I got to be there at the beginning and at the end."
Persons recently finished getting his coaching license. In addition to competing as a swimmer, Persons works as a coach with Swim Columbus. He said his future could include competitive swimming, possibly at Delta State. Regardless of where he goes to school, Persons will take with him a new appreciation for time and how much of it and effort goes into turning one second into a championship.
"Looking back, I can definitely say I have come a really, really long way," Persons said. "I can tell I have grown with all of the coaches I have had. I have gone to regional competitions and stuff like that, and just got back from a national conference, where we talked about the mechanics of swimming. To see I have gone from a little swimmer to being involved in the framework (of swimming) and being one of those guys people look up to now, I am right where (James) was when I was a little pip squeak. It is really cool to see that in the beginning she was there and in the end she also was there for that last race for this section of swimming."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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