Annie Rickard and Brendan Tompkins formed the Oakwood High swimming team this past season, and they made their school proud. Rickard, who recently completed her junior year, won the 100-yard butterfly in 1 minute, 2.48 seconds and placed second in the 200 freestyle in 2:08.39 in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Mission Division Championships.
Tompkins, who recently completed his sophomore year, won the 500 free in 5:10.30 and finished third in the 200 free in 1:57.47. Personal accomplishments aside, the two said developing a closer bond was more meaningful than anything they accomplished time-wise.
“The best part of the season was racing with Brendan,” Rickard said. “We cheered each other on and really got closer over the season. I got to know him a lot better as a friend and teammate.”
Rickard and Tompkins are both members of Santa Clara Aquatics/Swim Club and practiced together at the Morgan Hill Aquatic Center since Oakwood has no pool on campus. Under the tutelage of Santa Clara Swim Club coach Tom Lebherz, the two diligently practiced and refined their strokes with the goal to get faster and be more efficient in the water. Rickard’s mom, Jackie, happens to be the Oakwood coach and has been instrumental in a variety of ways.
“It’s really helpful to have mom on deck,” Annie said. “She’s been supportive in a lot of ways.”
When Rickard and Tompkins found out they had won their respective division championships, there was a sense of fulfillment and joy knowing they had worked hard and swam well.
“I thought about the race and there was nothing I would’ve changed,” she said. “I had been working on my underwater breakouts, dives and turns. All of the small things to bring it all together and thought I executed them perfectly. At this point, I need to build my conditioning and strength (to reach a higher level).”
Even though Rickard didn’t qualify for the CCS Championships, she got close in the 100 fly and just as important has seemingly gotten over a plateau period that many high school swimmers encounter after several years of swimming.
“I’m trying to get back to where I was and finally think I’m making progress,” said Rickard, who hit a season-best in both of her individual races at the league finals. “I’m definitely ready for next year to get my CCS cuts.”
Before the start of each of her races in the league finals, Rickard told herself to calm down and focus. It also helped that she had friends in the same race either the next lane or a couple of lanes over.
“When I see friends next to me, it helps me to focus, stay positive and think about all the small things I need to do,” she said. “(When I’m in the right frame of mind) I get really excited because I’m eager to go out and race my best.”
Rickard has a variety of interests and other passions outside of swimming. A couple of years ago, she was in a costume design class and helped sew elaborate garments for the Lion King Jr. family musical on campus. In January, Rickard took home second-place honors in the physics category of the South Valley Science and Engineering Fair for her project, The Effect of Shape on Fluid Dynamics.
The project was a study of swim suits and aerodynamics, analyzing the factors that make some superior to others, allowing swimmers to produce faster times. In the recently completed school year, Rickard was the president of Interact—a club for people ages 12 to 18 to develop leadership skills, fundraise for important causes and helping others—while also serving as a coach for Special Olympics swimming.
Rickard’s acts of service say a lot about her character and willingness to sacrifice her time for others. Volunteering at different functions like the Special Olympics has a particularly special place in her heart because she has a younger brother with Down Syndrome.
“He’s very determined, and I’m very proud of his swimming because he works super hard to be fast,” she said. “I learn a lot from him, especially his work ethic. … They (brother’s community of friends) are very genuine, they always want a friend and a lot of people don’t see that. It’s really special because they’re very positive, friendly and great to be around.”
For Rickard, swimming serves two vital purposes. One, it’s her only form of consistent and intense exercise. Two, swimming at times gives her a near transcendental experience. Amid the busyness of academics, projects and volunteer work, Rickard finds the pool a refreshing refuge.
“I really want to be in the pool because I have two hours to focus on nothing,” she said. “It’s really like meditation.”
Rickard said she loves the Oakwood student body and the rich learning environment.
“There is a lot of pressure to succeed, but at the same time you become more motivated by osmosis because of this great environment we’re in,” said Rickard, who is scheduled to take five or six Advanced Placement classes in her senior year. “There are a lot of self-driven people who are ambitious, and the best thing is we’re all a pretty tight-knit group. We share some characteristics, goals and aspirations, and we bounce ideas off of each other.”
Like Rickard, Tompkins excels academically and athletically, has big goals and works hard to achieve them. For Rickard and Tompkins, it’s all about the power of two.
“We’re closer than most teams because we swim on the same club team and spend more time together,” Tompkins said. “There is a lot of cheering for each other.”
Tompkins was proud of the fact that the Hawks finished ahead of a couple of teams in the PCAL Mission Division Finals—while only being a team of two.
“Because the two of us were pretty fast, we ended up beating other schools with more swimmers,” he said. “It’s satisfying knowing you can beat a team with 15 to 20 swimmers. Beating a much bigger team is infinitely satisfying and rewarding.”
Rickard and Tompkins credited Lebherz for helping them continually refine their strokes and technique.
“He’s done a fantastic job, is an excellent coach and is very devoted to helping out his swimmers,” Tompkins said.
Rickard and Tompkins both envision career seasons next year. While they are busy with academics, clubs and various projects, the two feel they have struck a right balance to maximize their time and energy into swimming amid other endeavors.
“I’m working on junior and senior year dominance (in the pool),” Tompkins said. “I’m looking to increase my practice times and getting better. That is what I’m doing right now, and I’m adding in weight training. With that I’m expecting a sharp increase in speed and endurance, and to get faster from there.”
Tompkins said he usually only takes two weeks off a year from swimming in August, and while that sounds like a recipe for burnout, Tompkins’ love for the sport and intrinsic motivation to improve means he’s willing to grind and have a smile doing it.
“My motivation hasn’t gone away one bit,” he said. “I feel like I’m only getting started. I’ve never felt the feeling of burnout.”
Tompkins excels in the longer events, particularly the 500 free, which at 20 laps is the longest distance in youth swimming. However, Tompkins also enjoys the mid-distance events that are contested at the club level like the 800, 1500 and 1650.
“I love getting into a rhythm and plowing right through,” he said. “The longer, the better. In the 500, I have to start out fast but not too fast, keep going fast and have to finish faster. You have to set a pace, hold it and go a little faster and ramp up toward the end. The race actually goes by so quickly once you look back on it.”
Tompkins loves swimming for a variety of reasons, as it provides an escape from life’s daily grinds while also a tremendous reward after a tough practice or race.
“Absolutely, it’s hard sometimes, but not to the point where it’s bad,” he said. “When you’re done, you feel better for it. I feel so much better after a workout and practice then before it. When I go to practice, I feel 100 times better after it’s over than when I started. It’s amazing.”
Tompkins has some serious swimming bloodlines in his family, as his parents, Sean and Jaime, both swam competitively. Sean swam at Cal and still has the cardiovascular system and strokes to rule the pool.
“When he wants to, he can still be pretty fast,” Brendan said. “He’s still got it, and it’s impressive. … Both of my parents give me advice after races and general tips after practice. They’ve helped me a lot.”
Tompkins had a 3.9 GPA in the fall semester of the recently completed school year, and counts reading and metal work as his hobbies.
“Melting metal and casting it, you can make some very intricate designs and figures out of that,” he said.
One of Tompkins’ upcoming goals include racing in a triathlon with his Sean, who is a software engineer at Apple, while Jaime is a doctor of nursing practice at Planned Parenthood. Even though Brendan acknowledges there is a little bit of pressure to do well in his future career given his parents’ occupations, he rests in the fact that he is his own person, and no job title will define him.