Leadership through faith has guided the swim career of senior Alyse Darnall
Senior swimmer Alyse Darnall just finished her final regular swim season as a member of the Azusa Pacific swim team. However, if you told her that four years ago, she would never have believed you.
Darnall’s brother played soccer for Westmont and during her freshman year of high school; they came to watch his first collegiate game against APU on the Azusa’s campus. While sitting at the soccer field, her mom made a joke about coming to swim for the university.
“I remember being in the car and looking at her and being like ‘over my dead body, mom’ and being completely serious – like, ‘that is never happening in a million years,'” Darnall said. “God for sure had different plans for me. I was not anticipating, at all, ever being in Azusa. I had never even heard of it until my brother played soccer against them.”
Darnall started swimming when she was about eight years old and at 11, she began a more serious swim career.
“I had never been good at sports. I had never been good at anything. My freshman year of high school, one of my club coaches told me that I probably would never been good enough to swim in college. That really affected me and really affected my confidence,” Darnall said.
Because of this, she pushed herself to reach for the collegiate level. As she grew in her confidence, she also grew in her ability to instill this in others around her. This swim season, she was also given the position of team coach, a role that she filled by herself.
Head coach Tim Kyle identified this confidence as one of Darnall’s many gifts as a leader.
“The first word that comes to mind [to describe her growth] is confidence in all aspects of her life. She was a confident person coming in, but now she just has more of a grasp of how to deal with diversity, how to deal with different personalities and how to create an environment where different people can thrive,” Kyle said. “She has grown in her walk with Christ. She is truly a great representation of our program.”
Both her coach and teammates alike identify this about her. Her confidence shines in and out of the pool, making her a model example of determination and selflessness throughout her time on the team.
“She is just one of those girls that is going to be a person that gets talked about, by me, to future recruits. It is just part of moving our program forward in the direction that I think it should go,” Kyle said.
Junior teammate Elodie Poo Cheong spoke about the personal impact that Darnall’s selfless leadership has had on her during their time together.
“She is a great training partner because she is a very hard worker. She is consistent and usually after a big set, I will look over to her lane and we will just be smiling because we know we gave everything we had and we are proud of ourselves,” Poo Cheong said. “She always knows the exact words to make me feel better if I have a bad practice or a bad meet.”
All of Darnell’s interactions are deeply guided by her faith. Her walk with the Lord has been a defining factor specifically for her swim career and is something she attributes to helping bring her to where she is now.
“I definitely would not have gotten to where I am without trusting in the Lord and knowing that He is the one in control and not me,” Darnall said.
In high school, Darnall found herself struggling with a lot of anxiety before big meets. It was not until she was given scripture reminders that she was able to calm her nerves.
“For sure, swimming is a very mental sport and if you cannot surrender yourself to God throughout it, for me personally, I would not have been successful without trusting God and surrendering the mental aspect of the sport over to Him,” Darnall said.
However, faith and leadership are not the only things that have brought Darnall to where she is. She is devoted to the craft of her sport.
“She is a very hard worker. She is always at practice on time ready to work super hard,” Poo Cheong said. “She likes challenges, which is really good for the team because we’re sprinters and we thrive on competition.”
As part of a four person relay team, Darnall earned qualification for the NCAA National Championships from March 14-17 in Greensboro, North Carolina. The qualifying swim was a 800-meter freestyle swim that broke the school record at 7:33.92 during the Pacific Coast Swimming Championships (PCSC).
Despite this record time, Darnall did not feel satisfied with her personal performance during the relay and expressed some remorse about the way this event concluded her final regular swim season.
However, Darnall does anticipate another record-breaking swim for their 800-meter freestyle relay at Nationals.
Poo Cheong, who will be swimming alongside Darnall at Nationals, spoke about her teammate’s possible upcoming performance.
“I have been training with her for the past few weeks and she has been doing so great. I have no doubt that she will be so good. If she wants it badly and has the right mindset, [she will] have a phenomenal swim,” Poo Cheong said.
Kyle also spoke about this unique athlete’s upcoming final meet with the APU swim team.
“She has really met a lot of my expectations already. Nationals is just kind of a cap to it all. She is a person that deserves to be there,” Kyle said. “She has worked very hard and she has put a lot into bringing our program to where it is. It is just a time for her to enjoy being there and just to really enjoy the experience.”
All of this mounting excitement is understandably bittersweet.
“It is a really weird feeling to think that this is my last swim meet competing—the sport I have been swimming since I was 11 years old. It doesn’t really feel like the end quite yet,” Darnall said.