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Athlete of the week: West Davidson's Grace Baird

West Davidson's Grace Baird is The Dispatch Athlete of the Week. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)

Fans at next year’s 1-A/2-A state championship swim meet may have to do a double-take when they look at their heat sheets.

For the first time in seven years, there will not be a Baird reigning supreme in the 500 freestyle.

Grace Baird, a senior at West Davidson, won her second straight state title in the long-distance event Saturday at the Triangle Aquatics Center in Cary. Her older sister, KellyAnn — who is now swimming at Ohio State — won the event four straight years at one point, the last of which came during Grace’s freshman year at West. That season, the Dragons won the girls’ state title.

While West didn’t enjoy quite that kind of team success this season, Baird capped off her brilliant career by standing on the gold medal stand once again Saturday. While KellyAnn’s memory, and the fact that her state record still stands, is still in Grace’s mind, she was not swimming against those ghosts Saturday. “I didn’t really have my eyes on the record,” she said. “It was just my last race of high school swimming, so I just wanted to win my last race.”

That was simple enough. Baird was also entered in the 200 free, and she finished second to Salisbury’s Mackenzie Stephens. That made for a pretty rewarding day, and was a strong showing on her last day in a Dragons’ uniform.

Most swimming fans relate more to the sprinting events, like the 50 free and the 100 free, and the shorter distance events like the butterfly and IM. But Baird has always been drawn to the longer events. “I’m not a sprinter at all,” she said. “So anything that’s the furthest thing from sprinting’s usually my best event.”

The 500 is certainly the furthest thing from a sprint. It is a test of endurance, with swimmers in the pool for over five minutes straight. That is what draws Baird to the event, the ability to showcase her speed and persistence.

The Bairds have a younger brother, Braxton, who is a solid swimmer at West. Grace said she started swimming around age 4, and being in the pool has always been a big deal for her family. “We’ve just always done it together,” she said. “It’s just what we’re used to.”

She doesn’t have to learn to find something different to occupy her time, now that her high school career is behind her. She will swim at Wagner College in New York, so she can continue doing what she loves. And she can look back on her time at West with tremendous pride. “It’s been an amazing four years, especially with winning states my freshman year,” she said.

Jason Queen can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 220 or