While most of her classmates at Texas A&M start a new school year in a few weeks, Lisa Bratton might be competing against some of the world’s best swimmers in Maui.
Bratton, a five-time state champion at Richland High School, accepted a spot on the Junior Pan Pacific Championships team after finishing third in the women’s 200-meter backstroke Thursday night at the U.S. national swimming championships in Irvine, Calif.
The Junior Pan Pacs are Aug. 27-31, and Bratton says she’ll miss freshman conferences and the first day of classes.
But there’s a chance her schedule could change again. The Pan Pacific Championships are Aug. 21-25 in Gold Coast, Australia, and Bratton could still make that team at the end of nationals.
“It’ll be Sunday that they’ll let me know,” Bratton said. “Then we’ll go to L.A. on Monday, fill out online paperwork and fly out to Australia the next day. My dad’s having somebody ship my passport just in case.”
Bratton didn’t expect to be in this position, but there she was in Thursday night’s final, between four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Pelton, the 2011 Pan American Games champion in the 200 back. Elizabeth Beisel, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in the 200 back, was two lanes over.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Bratton, who swims for the Tri-City Channel Cats under coach Todd Stafek. “It’s really cool to think about not many people know who I am — not yet, at least. I’m sitting here in Lane 6, and nobody knows who I am.”
Bratton advanced out of the preliminaries by swimming a personal-best time of 2 minutes, 11.33 seconds — 38th in the world this year — but she didn’t think that would get her into the “A” final.
“Todd’s been talking the past month it’s gonna take under 2:10 to make juniors,” Bratton said. “That’s where my mind was. I touched after prelims, and I was second in my heat. I wasn’t really happy with my time. I was expecting to maybe be eighth in the ‘B’ finals.”
But she was in a fast heat compared with the rest of the field. Five of the eight swimmers advanced to evening finals, and three of them — Beisel, Bratton and Kathleen Baker — were in the top eight.
In a surprising twist, Beisel, who entered the “A” final as the top overall seed, slipped on her start and fell behind. Bratton got out strong, and that kept her in the race even as Franklin pulled away in front of a cheering crowd to win in 2:08.38, the fifth-best time in the world this year. Bratton finished in 2:11.57, and Beisel touched the wall in sixth place.
“I’d just come off the 100 wall, and I was starting the 150, and I saw the blue leg and cap of Beisel,” Bratton said. “I’m like, ‘Wait, what happened to her? I’m up here. She’s back there.’
“I knew Missy was ahead. I didn’t really know where she was. I could see her bubbles. I just swam home. It felt pretty much the same as the morning swim.”
The postrace excitement was palpable, including from Bratton’s fellow competitors.
“Missy did give me a hug after I swam in the final,” Bratton said. “She gave me a kiss on the cheek, and she said, ‘You did so good!’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ There was so much going on.”
Friends in the Tri-Cities are keeping up with Bratton’s adventures in Southern California.
“My phone exploded last night,” Bratton said. “I didn’t get a chance to look at it after I swam. I was in the doping control area scrolling through my notifications, and by the time I got to the bottom, they were waiting for me. I didn’t even get to unlock my phone.”
Bratton admits her whirlwind Thursday likely contributed to her 59th-place showing in Friday’s 400 individual medley preliminaries, but she still has two more events at nationals: the 100 back today and 200 IM on Sunday.
After that, Bratton’s destination is in flux, but if she can’t get to school on time because of Junior Pan Pacs, she has met up with several of her Texas A&M teammates in Irvine.
“They’ve been super nice and supportive,” Bratton said. “It’s nice to get in contact with them before I go.”