It was about a year ago, and the biggest meet of the high school season had arrived.
The Greater Atlanta Christian swimmers were fired up for the state championships, but the team's star swimmer, Ali Slack, wasn't at her best. Fighting a flu-type sickness, she was in rough shape.
Her top finishes in individual events and her important role on relays appeared in doubt, which would have meant a huge hit points-wise for GAC in the team standings.
"Last year (Slack) was so sick," GAC coach Karen Blackman said. "But she came and performed famously. She was sick as a dog. We didn't know if she'd make it. But she did, like always. She's a trooper.
"When she gets in the water, she fights. She doesn't do it halfheartedly. I've never seen Ali not give her all in a race."
So that's what she did at state last year. She gave her all, even when a sickness had her down. So how did Slack, then a sophomore, do?
She won the Class AAAA/AAA/AA/A state championship in the 50 freestyle and was state runner-up in the 100 backstroke. Her 50 free time of 24.09 seconds was the fastest of the day, AAAAA included, and her 59.17 in the 100 back was the best among Gwinnett swimmers at the meet.
The SwimAtlanta product also was on the Spartans' state championship 200 medley relay that swam the event in 1:49.38, the day's second-fastest time. All those swims were big points for GAC, which finished fourth in the team standings.
It also marked the second state title for Slack, who won state in the 100 back as a freshman (the first state championship ever won by a GAC swimmer) and was third in the 50 free. This year she plans to swim the 50 free and 100 free at state, with first-place finishes the ultimate goals.
"It's definitely important to win (those races) for my school," said Slack, who holds six school records. "That's so big at my school. Everybody gets so pumped up about it when you win state. It would be amazing if I could win another one and score points for my team."
Slack's team will have a new home in the near future, and the junior hopes she's around to be a part of its opening. GAC plans to build an aquatic center - Blackman said ground is to be broken March 1 and she hopes the team can swim there by January 2007 - so Slack may get to finish her senior season with the first meets held on the GAC campus.
The new facility should boost the turnout for the swim team, as well as luring potential students who also are swimmers to the school.
"It's really going to help the program a lot," Slack said. "Right now they're going to SwimAtlanta late at night (to practice). It's definitely going to be nice. We can never have a home meet on campus, but we'll be able to now. Some kids have to drive 45 minutes to practice and we only get two lanes at SwimAtlanta. It's tough on the kids and the parents. The parents have to drive them there.
"I think our program's going to soar when we have a pool."
While the pool will help, Slack also has added plenty to the GAC program, particularly at big meets. Blackman said she's the most accomplished swimmer in GAC history, having won state titles to go with six All-American awards.
Slack hasn't begun sorting out potential colleges, but plans to swim in college and looks to have that chance. She's a fan of Michigan, her mother's alma mater, so the Wolverines are up there with Notre Dame.
But right now the main team she's helping is GAC.
"Obviously she's a returning gold medalist in the 50 free and she's in the top times of all the events, so that shows how important she is (to us)," Blackman said. "Everyone's an important part of the team, but she's the fastest on the team. And if you're the fastest, you're the fastest. Obviously she's important at state.
"She's able to perform even when she's not feeling well. She's just an incredible athlete."
THE SLACK FILE
Who: Ali Slack
Favorite movie: "Office Space"
Favorite food: Anything my mom cooks
Favorite athlete: Former Michigan and current Bengals RB Chris Perry
Favorite music group: Dave Mathews Band
• Won state title in 50 freestyle, was second in 100 backstroke as sophomore
• State champ in 100 back, third in 50 free as freshman
• First GAC swimmer to win individual state title
• Holds six of the 12 school swimming records
• Has earned six All-American awards
• Maintains 4.0 GPA
• Co-founder of Reach the Day fundraiser for CureSearch, which involves the National Childhood Cancer Foundation and the Children's Oncology Group