High School Sports

Hammond swimmer learning life lesssons

On Saturday, Sydney Bland traveled to the Sumter YMCA, where she won the 100-meter backstroke and 100 butterfly, helping her Hammond School varsity team win the meet.

The 14-year-old could have been forgiven for taking the remainder of the weekend off. But later that same day, the honors student traveled with her mother to Charleston to take part in a leadership event put on by a group for Jewish youth.

It was a small example of the kind of motivation and success her parents have come to expect.

"I am proud of the whole person Sydney is becoming," Sydney's mother, Renee Bland, said. "Whether she wins or loses a race, she is learning important life lessons about hard work and if you give something your all, you have the best chance at success."

During the summer, Sydney maintained a rigorous practice schedule. To start her day, she had swim practice from 4:30 a.m. until 7 a.m. From there, it was off to her summer job at an office of the South Carolina Internal Medicine Associates and Rehabilitation before wrapping up the evening with another two-hour practice.

The commitment has led to impressive times in her two best events - 2:41.40 in the 200-meter butterfly and 3:02.17 in the 200 meter-breaststroke. She also competes in the 200 Intermediate Medley, with her best time 2:41.23.

Lee Hutchens, her swim coach of nearly two years, believes those results are a preview of what's to come.

"She is just starting to scratch the surface of her potential," Hutchens said. "Over the year I've watched her gain confidence in her and in her abilities through her practice and performance at meets. With every practice, you can see that her confidence snowballs."

That confidence paid off during an August trip to the Jewish Community Center's 2009 Maccabi Games in San Antonio, Texas. Sydney was the only female participant from Columbia chosen for the games. She competed in 12 individual events and earned gold medalsin 11, the most wins of any athlete at the games.

"She really is a hard worker, and you can see that her time and effort pays off at the meets. It's been fun to see," Hutchens said. "She really likes to challenge herself, and I think we've only seen a little bit of what she can become as a swimmer."

Sydney's motivation has drawn praiseoutside the pool. Her honors geometry teacher, Sally Aldridge, credited her work ethic.

"I have no doubt as to her ability or continued future success," Aldridge said. "I consider it a privilege and honor to have had the opportunity to teach one so gifted."

Her parents believe the lessons learned in the pool will carry over into everyday life.

"She never complains. She loves it. She works hard and does what she has to do to be successful," Renee Bland said. "Being 14 and maintaining this type of schedule requires a special person. We are proud of that person."