As we celebrated President’s Day this past month, the usual stories were told that George Washington could never tell a lie and that Abe Lincoln was always known as Honest Abe. Neither of them, however, had to deal with coach Greg.
Chelsea Ackerson could not say the same.
Ackerson began taking swimming lessons in second grade, and got a new instructor in third grade who she only remembers as “Greg.”
“He was really harsh on everybody, but he told me I was good and that I should join a team,” Ackerson said. “But I didn’t really want to, so I lied and told him that I did. But he found out that I didn’t, so then I actually did join a team in fourth grade.”
And did she really think she was going to get away with that?
“For a little bit,” Ackerson said, laughing at the memory. “I was talking to my mom, and I was like ‘This guy thinks I should join a team.’ She said ‘Do you want to?’ and I was like, ‘Ehh, I don’t know.’ She said ‘Well you can if you want to.’ And I said ‘Well for now I’m just gonna pretend I did.’
“I liked swimming, but I liked easy swimming. I was worried if I joined a team it would be too hard. So I was like ‘Yeah, yeah, I joined the team.’”
It didn’t take long for Greg to ask mom how the lessons were going.
“After he found out I was lying, I was like, ‘Oh OK, maybe I actually should,’” Ackerson said. “And then I tried out, and it all worked out.”
That’s an understatement. Ackerson recently completed an epic senior season for Steinert High’s swim team, in which she won all but one individual race that she competed in and claimed her first gold medal at the Mercer County Championships. She will graduate as the school record-holder in the 500 yards (5:07.31) and 100-yard backstroke (59.55). She was a four-year mainstay, swimming on the Spartans’ A relay teams since her freshman season.
“Chelsea is a very versatile swimmer,” Steinert girls’ coach Emily Summers said. “She can be put in numerous events and swim some great times. We really looked to Chelsea over the past four years for her distance swimming. She has been Steinert’s go-to 500 (yards) 400 (meters) swimmer.”
Coach Greg saw that potential from the start and it didn’t take long for Ackerson to prove it to herself. She joined Hamilton Aquatics Club in fourth grade and was immediately one of the more advanced girls at her level due to the lessons she took. She quickly became known as a HAC standout and climbed the ladder in a hurry.
“Usually in elementary school you don’t go to USA meets because there’s a time standard,” she said. “But I made them in fourth grade, so I went to the big meets with the older kids right away. In fifth grade I made states and didn’t win anything because I was so young, but it was still cool to make it and stuff. Now, in a few weeks I’m gonna go to my last states, and my first one was in fifth grade. It’s kind of cute to look back at it over time, I guess.”
‘Chelsea took a position as captain this year and was a leader in and out of the water.’
She has a lot of nice things to look back on, starting with her freshman year when she joined a Spartan squad that included HAC teammates Maddie Horner, Maggie Herbert, Hailey Thayer and Tess Dalton.
“That was great, it was like such a party,” Ackerson said. “When we went to meets, I was a freshman, I didn’t know what I was doing. They were older so they were all comfortable, and I was never nervous for high school meets. I just showed up singing songs and having a good time.”
Ackerson made an immediate impact, which was no surprise to Summers, who was also in her first year with the coaching staff.
“We knew she would be a key swimmer for all four of her years at Steinert,” Summers said. “As a freshman, Chelsea showed great potential, especially swimming the distance and backstroke events. And she has become a more confident swimmer over her four seasons.”
And as her fellow HAC swimmers graduated, Ackerson had to grow into a leadership role.
“Chelsea took a position as captain this year and was a leader in and out of the water,” Summers said. “She has helped many underclassmen gain the confidence to swim an individual event, to improve on their technique, and has given advice to swimmers on how to swim their race.”
For Ackerson, it was merely a case of learning her lessons well.
“My sophomore year Maggie left, and then Tess and Hailey, and then Maddie,” she said. “Now I’m the oldest one. I kind of just watched over the years and did what they did so I would be ready when it was my turn to be the senior, be the captain.”
As good as her leadership qualities were, Ackerson’s performance in the pool was even more impressive. Entering the Mercer County Championships, she had won every individual event she had swam in dual meets this season. She remained flawless by winning the 400 championship in 4:31.83, and was just one event away from perfection.
Ackerson missed it by just over two seconds, when she finished second in the 100 back to Nottingham junior Nikita Kouznetsova. Ackerson clocked a 1:07.74 to Nikita’s 1:05.91.
“Going undefeated was there, in my mind,” Ackerson said. “I thought, ‘Aww it would be really cool for all of this to happen.’ But I knew going into counties how good all those people were who I was racing against. I wasn’t expecting to win, but obviously it would have been great. I knew Nikita was especially really fast, and I couldn’t ignore that fact. So, I kind of had no expectations and was hoping for the best.”
In the end, she had an undefeated dual meet season and an MCT medal to cherish.
“That was really cool and fun for me because that never happened,” she said of the unbeaten regular-season. “And then winning counties, I’d never done that, so I was really happy with it.”
Ackerson’s next stop will be Bloomsburg University. She has already talked to the coach and plans on swimming there. Beyond that, she hopes coaching might be in her future as she gave swimming lessons in a woman’s backyard pool last summer and loved it.
“I would love to coach some day, it’s so cute,” she said. “All these little kids showing up, not really knowing how to do anything. I used to be like that when I took lessons with Greg. Some of them show a lot of potential… so I can tell them to join a team, then they can lie to me about it!”