Kayla Wilson '22 shined in the national spotlight this summer, reaching the semifinals of the United States Olympic Trials in swimming.
That put Kayla one step from qualifying for the Olympics, at 17 years old. It was success even she did not expect.
“I just wanted to go in and learn a lot from swimmers who are more experienced than me," Kayla said on July 5, as she sat at Norfolk Academy's Vaughan Aquatic Center.
Kayla's Olympic Trials competition began right after Academy's school year closed in early June. She finished the women’s 200-meter freestyle in 2:00.03, making her one of 16 swimmers to qualify for the semifinals in that event.
Only the top two swimmers qualify for the Olympics, and Kayla's semifinals time was not good enough. But she gained invaluable experience going up against stars like Katie Ledecky, who has won several Olympic gold medals.
Such success came as no shock to Kristen Kirkman, Academy's varsity swimming coach and director of the aquatic center. Mrs. Kirkman has been teaching young students how to swim for years. When Kayla came to her for a lesson before she entered first grade, she immediately recognized a special talent.
“She moved so effortlessly," Mrs. Kirkman said.
That ability runs in the family. Kayla's mother, Katy Arris-Wilson, swam at the Olympic Trials in 1988 and 1992, and represented the U.S. in several international competitions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She is in the University of Texas sports hall of fame.
Kayla began swimming when she was about 3 years old. A few years later she started training at Tide Swimming, where her mother is President. Since then, she has competed in a multitude of events under some exceptional coaches.
“I owe a lot to Mrs. Kirkman," Kayla said. She loves competing for Academy, she added, because of the team environment.
“We're all trying to win a state championship for our school," she said.
Academy won a state title in 2019, and Kayla hopes to be part of another championship squad in the winter season. Longer term, her goal is to follow in her mother's footsteps and qualify for an international competition, whether that be the next Summer Olympics or another event.
She's not resting on her laurels. Her summer training involves more than seven hours at the pool on some days.
That workload suits her just fine.
“It's easy to be motivated when you have a goal ahead of you," Kayla said.