Hanford swimmer Stephanie Tixier has reached the top of the medal podium three times at the Class 3A state championships, but each time, she has stood alongside a cast of Falcons relay teammates.
Last year as a junior, she came close to an individual gold medal, finishing second in the 50-yard freestyle and third in the 100 butterfly in Federal Way.
A solo title this season would be another highlight in a swim career that picked up steam when she joined the Tri-City Channel Cats at age 5.
The start of that journey also coincided with her learning that she had type 1 diabetes.
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“I usually say, ‘I have diabetes. I’m not a diabetic,’ ” Tixier said.
Tixier took insulin shots at least four times a day for nine years before switching to an insulin pump, which helped even out her blood sugar level. She is able to input the amount of units she needs or the amount of carbohydrates she is about to eat so the pump knows how much insulin to give.
When she works out, however, her blood sugar level usually drops, so she has juice or a snack to get back within her preferred range. Sometimes her coaches or her younger sister, Lisa, who also swims for Hanford, remind her to test her blood sugar if she doesn’t appear well.
“I’ve lived with it for most of my life,” Stephanie Tixier said. “I know how to deal with it. It’s just there.”
Though she has managed her diabetes for more than a decade, Tixier has found that she sometimes can only push her body so hard.
At state her freshman year, Tixier had to swim the third heat of the 100 fly and the first heat of the 100 free with no break in between. She struggled with the quick turnaround, leading her and her coaches to revisit their strategy for the next season.
Tixier cut the 100 free from her state program, and her performance skyrocketed. She won her first relay title in the 200 free with her older sister, Christine, and was part of a runner-up finish in the 200 medley relay. Individually, she placed sixth in the 50 free and in the 100 fly.
“Much over 100 in anything wipes her out, and it takes her a long time to recover,” Hanford/Richland coach Kathy Piper said. “The sprint fly and sprint free are similar energy, and her body handles that.”
Tixier swims longer distances with the Channel Cats, but club meets usually have longer breaks than high school events, giving her more time to rest and refuel. In general, though, she considers herself a sprinter so she prefers shorter races.
“I’ve really been working on my fly lately to get it fine-tuned as the season goes on,” Tixier said. “I was doing good last year. I’m just hoping I can keep up the technique this year, just to get as good a time, if not better than last year.”
Tixier also hopes to add to her family’s legacy within the Hanford swim program. She and all of her siblings except the youngest, David, have been year-round swimmers.
Her older brother, Danny, once held Class 3A district records in the 200 free and 100 fly. A year after standing atop the state medal podium with her older sister, she and younger sister Lisa swam on the winning 200 and 400 free relay teams.
“It was really cool that the first year (I won), Christine could be on the relay with me,” Stephanie said. “It’s just really cool to have Tixiers on the (record) board at state. It has been fun to know they are there with me.”
The Tixiers also have been known to have a little fun. Stephanie owns up to playing a few pranks at the hotel while the Hanford and Richland teams are at state or district meets, such as putting pillows in the dressers or rearranging furniture.
Piper suspects she’s the ringleader of the operation, but Tixier denies it.
“It’s not just me,” Tixier said, laughing. “Kathy likes to blame everything on me, but I’m not the head of everything.”
When she’s not busy swimming or carrying out practical jokes, Tixier shows pigs and chickens in 4-H and takes Running Start classes at Columbia Basin College. She plans to have her associate’s degree when she graduates from high school, but she’s not sure what she wants to do beyond that. If she continues her education, she thinks she would like to keep swimming, as her older sister has done at Biola University in Southern California.
Just as Stephanie has looked up to Danny and Christine, she has been a role model for her younger sister.
“She motivates me to go faster than her and sometimes to work harder than her,” said Lisa, who also admires her sister’s perseverance in dealing with her diabetes.
“When she takes care of her blood sugar levels, then she can go a lot faster and has more strength. When she does that, it’s just amazing to see how well she does.”