The Valdosta Daily Times
It’s 4:45 a.m. Most eighth graders are nestled in bed getting some extra sleep before a long, rigorous day at school.
Everyone but Emma Layton.
Instead, the 13-year-old is sitting in the passenger seat of her mother’s car, driving to Thomasville for a workout in the swimming pool.
“On the way to Thomasville, I get bored so I think I’ll text my friends,” Layton said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, they’re still asleep for two more hours.’ You just think, ‘What am I doing?’ sometimes.”
What she is doing is becoming one of the best swimmers in the nation for her age group, and a possible candidate to represent Team USA Swimming in the 2016 Olympics.
“I want to go to trials and attempt to make the (Olympic) team,” said Layton, who wants to swim for a full-time job. “I just want to keep trying until I make it....I think it would be fun to swim on a daily basis for money.”
Before she can qualify for the Olympics, which wouldn’t be until Dec. 2015, Layton must continue to train. So she is in the pool. A lot.
Following an hour workout in the pool three days a week, Layton returns to Valdosta and attends classes at Valwood until 12:30 p.m. Then she is back in the car heading to Tallahassee, where she spends three more hours in the pool practicing with her team, the Area Tallahassee Aquatic Club (ATAC).
“It is the challenge that makes it fun,” Layton said. “Every day is different.”
The hard work in the pool has already paid off for Layton. As just an eighth grader, she beat out juniors and seniors — actually dominated — in the GISA State Championship Swim Meet at Georgia Tech last month.
She entered three events and set state records in all three, winning by almost 11 seconds in the 500-yard freestyle event.
As if her performances weren’t impressive enough, Layton one-upped herself last weekend in a state meet in Florida.
She broke her state record in Georgia — set last month at the GISA meet — for the 500-yard freestyle, besting her personal best time by a half-second.
Then in the 1-mile swim, Layton finished with a time of 16:56.49, the fifth fastest national time for her age group, according to USA Swimming.
“It is just fun,” Layton said.
Layton says she has a lot of work to do until she can qualify for the Olympic team. That is why she is in the pool Monday through Saturday working hard, trying o become the next Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old that won four golf medals in the 2012 Olympics in London.
“I’m a little bit off,” said Layton, who has swam for her Tallahassee team since mid-July. “I’ve got three-in-a-half years left. It would be pretty cool, though.”
While Missy Franklin’s accomplishments are hard to ignore, and hard to inspire to, Layton said it is her teammates in Tallahassee that she looks up to the most.
“Mainly the juniors and seniors on my team,” Layton said. “I know them personally and they are more role models to me than people I don’t know.”
One obstacle Layton has had to overcome is the moving that goes with being a military family. Emma’s father, Darrin, is a Major in the United States Air Force and has been stationed at Moody Air Force Base for the past eight months.
“The hardest part is getting used to the different coaches’ workouts,” said Layton, who has lived in five states now. “Other than that, you get used to it. Like moving to different schools, it is really easy now. I like the different scenes.”
To help keep up with her rigorous workouts in the swim pool, Layton says she “eats a lot.” Her diet starts in the mornings, when she has two breakfasts — one before her trip to Thomasville and one upon her return home — with a protein shake on the car ride home. She also eats two separate dinners, with another protein shake on the car ride home from Tallahassee.
“You have to eat a lot,” Layton said. “Otherwise you get so tired. I mean, you just have to replenish everything you’ve lost.”
In the classroom, Layton posts good grades and says her favorite subject is writing. With such a busy schedule, the majority of her homework is done in the car rides to and from swim practice.
“I do my homework on the way to Tallahassee and I study on the way home,” she said. “If grades fall I don’t get to swim for a couple of days.”
At home, Layton said she spends Sundays sleeping in and lounging around the house in her pajamas.
“We lay around the house,” Layton said. “I will only get out of my pajamas to go to Dairy Queen and get a Blizzard.”