Published: February 15, 2014
FORT COLLINS - As she climbed to the top podium, the one reserved for the state champion, Sydney Buckley did a very Sydney Buckley thing.
She tried to pull the runner-up to the top step, alongside her, arm in arm. It made for the perfect capper to a remarkable high school swimming career:
If Sydney isn't lifting up someone else, she's not being Sydney.
That's how, after winning three straight state titles in the 100-yard butterfly, Sydney has nothing to show for it. Nothing tangible, at least, unless you count a heart of gold.
"Did she tell you what she does with the medals she wins?" asked her father, Thom Buckley.
No, she didn't.
"She gives them away," said her mom, Lisalynn.
Gives them away? Sydney left out that part.
"She's won three state championships," dad said. "And we don't have a state-championship medal in the house."
Sydney's first state-championship medal, won as a sophomore, went to Granny. And Mary Parsons was there in the stands at EPIC for the Class 4A girls state swimming and diving championships Saturday. Another medal went to Uncle Tim. Another went to Uncle Doug. Another went to Bailey Bush, a family friend.
"She's an inspiration," said Kate Doan, the swimming coach at Cheyenne Mountain.
After she finished Saturday's 100 butterfly in 55.85 seconds for a third-straight state title, even her parents wondered where the medal would go.
"This one is TBD," her dad said. "But I can assure you it won't be in the house in the morning."
All parents of high school athletes think their kid is special. Perhaps that's why inboxes of sports editors are filled with angry emails, asking why the paper adores one school and ignores another, or why the cheerleading team doesn't get coverage, even though they work really, really hard, or why the sixth man on the freshman basketball team never gets his name in print.
They're right on one account. Newspapers should be filled with Sydney Buckleys.
"She's the girl who would give her shirt off her back to somebody she doesn't even know," Doan said.
Or the medal from around her neck.
"She's special," her coach said.
"She's special," her dad said.
She's special, I said.
At one particular meet, Sydney won four races. She gave all four medals to a 3-year-old. In her downtime, Sydney is teaching that 3-year-old how to swim.
"When I first started swimming, I was just hoping to float," Sydney said.
"She wants others to enjoy her success more than she does," Doan said.
It's fitting, maybe, that Sydney only started competing in the butterfly because her team needed someone to do it. Then she won three state titles in the event.
"She knew we needed someone," Doan said. "She just was like, 'All right. Let's do it.'"
The swimming community loves three things: screaming, hugging and motivational T-shirts. ("Swim to Win! #LadyHornets" said one.) And the swimming community is different. It just is. The travel and time demands can be overwhelming. Cheyenne Mountain, which finished third in Class 4A, trains for 2? hours, Monday through Sunday. Parents sit for hours in sweaty indoor natatoriums and alongside frigid outdoor pools. "They have it tougher than I do," Sydney said.
It's a commitment to a lifestyle change. For a young swimmer to succeed, all parties must be all in, from the streamlined visions of a high school coach and club coach, to the correct diet, to the parents who drive from Colorado to California to watch a two-day meet.
"They did that a couple times," Sydney said.
There was lots of crying, too, at the girls state meet. Sydney cried only once. It didn't happen when she capped off a historic high school career with another state title.
"I didn't feel any different after I won the race than before the race," she said.
It happened when she was asked about her family's influence. Sydney lost it. She broke down. She apologized. She was officially ready to give away another medal.
"They mean everything to me," she said. "I love them all so much."
Wiping away tears, she added, "I don't remember a meet when my family wasn't there."
Back to the medals.
Why not keep them?
"Honestly, the medals don't mean that much to me," she said. "If I can give it to someone I love, and it makes them happy, that makes me happy. It's my way of saying thanks. I wouldn't be here without them."
Sydney turns 18 in March. She's way ahead of the rest of us.