GREEN RIVER — As a child, Avery Otto drew a picture of herself going to the Olympics.
Any of us who would have known about that at the time would not have been surprised to hear last week that Otto couldn’t bring all of her awards to a Rocket-Miner photo shoot — her 53 medals, aside from weighty trophies, were simply too many.
Otto has been an all-conference and all-state swimming honoree each of her high school years and won gold in back-to-back seasons. After breaking school records and finishing over her high school career at the perch in events where thousands competed, Otto will make it clear this week that her career is far from over as she is expected to sign with the University of Wyoming.
And the trajectory is the same: Otto has her sights on the 2020 Olympic trials.
She watched the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, when Michael Phelps forever changed modern Olympics. But Otto is not on her own orbit only because of outside forces.
“No one in my family was a swimmer. I’ve had a really strong internal drive,” Otto said. “I’ve always really wanted to do it for myself.”
The goal-setting method that her Games aspirations reflects her proven her well — making targets especially for placement at the outside-the-state events enabled her to place in the top five in them. In between, she participated in a program where she swam twice per day for four total hours all but two months each year. And she started doing that six to seven years after other girls typically do.
“I’m very excited for her. Her and I have set goals together,” her mother Crystal Horn said. “We’ve talked about what goals she could accomplish, and so it’s very exciting. … I’ve sat in the background and listened to her talk to coaches … we’ve followed a lot of swimming across the nation … her and I will go look up the top 100 times … and what she needs to do to get to that level.”
“She’s going to get even better.”
For now, Otto capped her world-class high school career by making the finals in all of her events and taking bronze in 50-yard freestyle, besides striking state gold for the second consecutive year in the 100-yard butterfly, setting a new school record in the process. Her 57.86-second performance was more than a full second ahead of the second-place finisher. Her high school coach, Colleen Seiloff, said that another goal of Otto’s, besides winning back to back, was to get a faster time.
“That’s been her goal in the last year,” Seiloff said. “She really owned that event.”
The back-to-back goal stems from a major turning point for Otto. She took second in the whole state in butterfly as a freshman and sophomore.
Clearly not bad. But not enough for a young woman who was in lane eight, the one reserved for the fastest swimmer since the first day of her freshman year. So about two years ago, Otto said she put her “nose to the grindstone.”
“That’s when I felt my practicing really began,” Otto said. “It was embarrassing to be asked ‘you were state runner-up again?’ … It wasn’t cool to be second place; not twice in a row in the same event.”
“I remember my alarm going off at five in the morning in the middle of winter,” Otto said, then recalling that she would think “you want to be state champ. How good will it feel to have that medal around your neck?”
Seiloff told the Rocket-Miner that her team engages in grueling two-a-days all season, swims, lifts weights and “dry land” training, which consists of strength training, stretching and fitness. And then there is the two-a-days 83 percent of the time through the local USA Swim chapter, led by Randy Walker. He was the one who convinced Otto to stop cheerleading as she had also done as a freshman and half of her sophomore year, telling her that if she wanted to swim at the college level, she needed to hone in. Otto had started swimming just three years earlier, at 12 years old, when she first eyed lane eight.
“I really love cheerleading. I’d been dancing since I was a little kid,” Otto said. “But I had to make a choice.”
And the goal-setting continued, she aimed to finish in the top 50 of a Seattle competition because, as Otto said, “future Olympians” would be swimming there — or the top 10 in Fresno.
She reached both goals.
“You make a lot of sacrifices: not being able to go to football games or go with my friends to the movies,” Otto said. “It was hard sometimes, but when you go to your meet and hit your time … it was so refreshing to see the progress.”
Horn readily said that Otto wanted to swim after learning about the USA Swim opportunity in third grade and that former middle school coach Phil Harder encouraged Horn to get Otto involved before then. Horn said Harder told her she should enroll Otto in USA Swim, with one of its two sessions per day running from 7-9 a.m., after watching her. Otto said that in lessons as a little kid at the Green River Recreation Center, she was able to stay under the water the longest and reach a pool wall the fastest.
This year, Otto also took third in the state in the 200-yard medley relay and her all-conference recognition came in the 200-yard medley relay; 400-yard freestyle relay; and, individually, the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke. Besides the butterfly, she broke school records this year in the 200-yard medley relay and 200-yard freestyle relay.
Otto spoke with college coaches from Idaho to the East Coast before deciding on the Cowboys.
“I felt most welcomed by UW, and the coaches were engaging,” Otto said.