By Brett Marshall
When Emma Tull makes her final qualifying swims at the May 17-18 Class 6A state meet in Topeka, she plans on following that up with a swim in the finals on the second day of the meet.
That would be a significant accomplishment as not a single swimmer for the GCHS girls has reached the final day, either individually or on a relay team, in her four years of varsity swimming for the Lady Buffs.
She hopes to change that to cap off what has been a hugely successful career at GCHS.
If anyone knows the heartbreak of going through the qualifying trials, it would be Tull. In her junior season, in her specialty of the 100-yard breaststroke, she missed the finals by a mere .3 of a second.
“I went through a time during the end of my sophomore year and then starting junior year, where I wasn’t enjoying being in the pool,” Tull said. “So for my senior year, I decided to do something different.”
What she did was stay out of the pool during the summer AAU competition meets, and then opted to run cross country for the Lady Buffs, something she said was one of her best decisions.
“I decided just two days before the fall cross country practice started and it was just a good experience to run, and stay in shape,” Tull said. “Then, when I came back off the winter months, I had that excited feeling about being in the pool and that makes me happy.”
Tull said that her freshman year was probably when the Buffs had their strongest team, with Claire and Grace Schmidt among others leading the way, along with Erika Schafer.
“Those seniors did a lot to help me and others understand what we needed to do for training and then competing,” Tull said. “This year, we had some girls who chose not to come out, so it’s been a real challenge in the practices for me. I’ve found ways to motivate myself.”
Tull also swims on a couple of the Buffs’ relay teams, as well as working in the 200-yard individual medley where she swims all four strokes of 50 yards each (backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and freestyle).
“The IM is the worst event, and perhaps that is why I like it the most,” Tull said with a big smile. “I have a weird relationship with pain and I feed off it, but don’t necessarily like it.”
Coming off a strong sophomore season and summer success, Tull said she thought she’d be in a position to dominate the Western Athletic Conference. Instead, Dodge City had a foreign exchange student who was just consistently faster all season.
“I had no idea she was there,” Tull recalled of the first meet in which she competed against the foreign exchange student. “I’d won a big summer meet and this girl comes in from Germany and it just made the season really, really tough.”
Tull remembers the stress she self-imposed on herself during her freshman season, and has learned a lot from that experience. She also is the current school record holder in the 100-yard breaststroke.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself after having swam so well in summer meets before high school,” she said. “Now, I just tell myself it’s just a swim meet, and that it’s not the end of the world. As long as I know I’ve gone and tried my best.”
So while the number of teammates has dimmed some in her senior year, Tull said she continues to be motivated not only for herself, but also helping the younger teammates.
“Just like the seniors did for me, I want to pass along to the younger ones what I’ve learned to help them be better,” Tull said.
So if she could write her final chapter of her swimming career, Tull said she wants to surprise her competitors at the state meet.
“I’m a spoiler and I want to show the eastern Kansas girls that I can compete with them this year,” she said. “A couple of weeks ago, I did better at the Trinity meet than some of the others would have expected.”
She will have that opportunity by having swam state qualifying times in both the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard individual medley. But for her, this will be her final curtain call in the competitive pool.
It’s off to Kansas State University next fall where she will study speech pathology. She had college interests at the NAIA level but those schools didn’t have a speech pathology program, so she’s opted for K-State.
“I’m excited and I want to savor these last few meets,” she said. “It’s really hit me hard the last two meets in Manhattan and Hutch. They had Senior Nights and it just kind of got me emotional. It goes so fast and it doesn’t feel like any time at all.”