Staff Photo: John Bohn Lydia Jones, an Archer senior swimmer, last year won Archer's first individual state title in any sport, winning state in the 50 freestyle. Jones wishes to swim for a Division 1 school located in the Southeast.
Lydia Jones won Archer's first individual state title as a sophomore last year, ripping up the water to win the 50-meter freestyle in Georgia's biggest classification.
And it isn't her main event.
Petite and powerful, Jones is and isn't genetically predisposed to be a good sprinter.
Her parents were runners and gifted Jones with an abundance of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Her height -- or lack thereof -- came from them, too. At one time, Jones lamented not having the prototypical build of a sprint swimmer.
"It used to be something I really struggled with when I was younger -- because I was getting beat by taller people," she said. "I didn't understand why. I was training hard and my technique was good.
"But it's just something that I've accepted, that it's going to be something I'm going to have to work to overcome. I love a challenge."
Winning races, beating those with an advantageous reach, went a long way to helping Jones accept what she generously lists as 5-foot-4 -1/2.
A fierce academic who ranks among the top students in her class while taking four AP courses, Jones found ways to overcome the disparity.
"One of my strengths in sprinting is turns and starting," she said. "I've been told that I have really fast starts and really fast turns. So that's what I use to help me on the 50 and the 100. Even if someone does have height over me and maybe it's going to be easier for them to touch the wall, I can outswim them on turns and starts.
"It's a thing that most people overlook. And neglect. But I really try to focus on those little technical things."
Even if Jones was six inches taller, she would still stress the details.
"Because it's who I am," said Jones, who speaks with purpose and precision. "I'm constantly trying to look for areas where I can improve. Just focusing on those little things I know is where I can improve at this level. At this point, it's not really strength and it's not technique, it's about fine-tuning those little aspects of your stroke."
Jones got to that level of training about the same time she started high school, which is also when Archer opened. It's also when Jones had to make some difficult decisions about which sport to pursue.
Jones, who trains year-round with SwimAtlanta's select group, played basketball throughout elementary school. She was on the volleyball team and ran track in junior high.
"I decided to give up volleyball, which I really loved, for swimming," Jones said. "The older you get in swimming, you have to start deciding where you want to take it.
"Around eighth grade, that's when you really transition from not being able to just rely on your talents anymore. You really have to start working hard and focusing in. That's usually when a lot of people quit, but it's also when a lot of people decide, 'This is for me, I want to pursue it through, maybe, the rest of college.'"
Jones has Division-I aspirations, but academics is her first priority.
"I definitely focused more of my time on that and if I have to miss a swim practice here or there to make up a test or study for something, I will," she said. "Because school is much more important to me than swimming.
"But it's definitely a balancing act. I've developed pretty good time-management skills over the years. And I do have to cut out some things. Like Facebook -- I don't get on Facebook every day. Maybe once a week if I'm lucky."
Though it's hard to imagine not knowing what every one of her acquaintances is doing or feeling at that exact moment, Jones has a social life. Swimming is a close-knit community and practice time is also a chance to hang out with friends.
"Some of my best friends are on this (SwimAtlanta) team, people that I've grown up and been through so much with," Jones said. "We may not all go to the same school, but we all relate to each other's classes and having to balance swimming and school. That's why my closest friends are here.
"A lot of my friends at school don't understand what it's like to spend three hours a day practicing. Or why."
Motivated and an admitted perfectionist, Jones was a state placer as a freshman. She won county in the 50 free last season and then went on to the state title.
"My freshman year, I was seeded first in the A-AAAA division and I guess the pressure just got to me," she said. "I did not do well at that state meet. This past year, I wasn't even really focusing on freestyle because my coach sees me more as a butterflyer than a sprint freestyler. So 50 free was just an event I was doing for fun, that I happen to be good at. I was just going in with a mindset that I was going to do my best and see what happened."
Jones was also third at state and county runner-up in the 100 butterfly as a sophomore.
"I train freestyle more to cater to my butterfly," she said. "I don't actually train sprint. I train the distance, which is more 200 and 300s. So I train for my 200 butterfly and 100 butterfly. But sprinting is just something that I enjoy and that I'm good at. Usually I don't have very big expectations for my sprint and it just comes through.
"That's the way I'm wired, I do better in the events I don't put pressure on myself for. I think that's why I've had success over the past few years because I've not even been actually focusing on sprints."