by Brittany Reed
Courtney Sherwood’s tan body slices through the pool as she backstrokes through the first leg of the 200 medley relay at the 2020 NCAA Division II Championship in Geneva, Ohio. The audience cheers as she pushes off the far wall, propelling herself to her teammate that is waiting at the pool ledge for her to finish. This is the race that would make her a five time All-American.
Sherwood’s 200 medley relay team placed fifth overall and broke the school record with a time of 1:40.95. Sherwood, sophomore psychology major, has only been swimming for The University of Tampa women’s swim team for two years but has already made a name for herself on the pool deck. Not only has she dealt with the struggles of balancing swim, school, and a social life, but she came back stronger than ever after a minor injury that cost her four months of pool time.
The Canadian swimmer has been in the water since she was in second grade. Her inspiration? Her older sister.
“I guess her training hard in the pool every day and even at school—she trained so hard in everything. She always motivated me to go harder,” said Sherwood.
This motivation led Sherwood to continue swimming throughout grade school and eventually led her to UT. It wasn’t until middle school that she decided she wanted to swim in college, but she never thought she would end up in the United States. Her freshman year at UT, Sherwood broke five school records, was a three-time All-American at NCAA Division II Nationals and placed first in the 200 backstroke at the 2019 Sunshine State Conference Championships. According to Phil Murray, assistant swim coach, this is the race that broke Sherwood out of her shell and brought the team together to rally around her.
“She crushed the other team’s girl head to head and the whole team went absolutely nuts because it just built from there,” said Murray. “We ended up winning conference that year for our first time in four or five years.”
Murray is the international recruiter that worked with Sherwood through her transition from high school in Canada to UT as well as a coach for some of her events—the 200 individual medley and 200 backstroke.
“First and foremost, it helps that she’s a very fast swimmer, but more importantly she’s very coachable and very receptive to what we’re asking her to do,” said Murray.
Since her first year on the UT women’s swim team, Sherwood has made even more progress. At the 2020 Sunshine State Conference Championships, she placed first in three races, second in one race and won female swimmer of the meet—the swimmer who has the most points.
Sherwood’s toughest moment occurred earlier this year. After accidentally hitting her head on a table over the summer, she developed a concussion that would last four months.
“I got the concussion but then I didn’t really want to tell anyone about it because I wanted to keep training in the summer, so I kept going with it and kept training and it kept getting worse,” said Sherwood.
Once she got back to UT, Sherwood began to take care of her injury, but was out of the water until November. Constant headaches paired with the fact she couldn’t get in the pool put strain on school and her mood, however, her motivation and supportive teammates are what got her through it.
“I kind of thought I was never going to be able to get back to where I was but then I had this point where that switched—in December—because I started doing better in practice and then I started getting motivated to come back better than ever,” said Sherwood.
Sherwood began to hit her times and set new personal bests at the Spartan Invitational meet at the end of December. As much as she missed swimming, this was a nice break for mental health. According to Sherwood, the swim team trains 11 times a week, with some practices starting at 6:15 a.m., meaning she has to balance many hours in the pool, schoolwork, meets, UT’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and a social life.
“There are times where I’m at practice and I’m like, this sucks, I just want to go lie in my bed and do my homework because I have so much to do…right now I have so many midterms and I have like three essays due tomorrow and I’m like, I don’t have time to swim right now,” said Sherwood.
According to Sherwood, swim has helped her become better at time management and puts her into a routine. However, her no-quit mindset and support team are what encourages her to push herself to keep getting better. Sherwood said her mom sacrificed a lot for her to go to UT and that she tries to make her proud and prove that picking UT was a good decision.
“She’s a runner, so she used to do a lot of marathons, and that pushes me because if I know, ‘oh my God, my mom does 42 kilometers’—I don’t know what it is in miles—then I’m like, ‘okay, I can finish this two minute race or something.’ Definitely a big motivator,” said Sherwood.
Her teammates are just as motivating. Sherwood said her team is extremely supportive and always cheer each other on during practices and at meets. Whether it’s in the pool or not, someone always has her back. Her three roommates are all on the swim team and each play a big role in pushing her.
“We’re kind of all in it together. If they’re waking up early, if they can do it, I can do it,” said Sherwood.
Motivation goes the other way as well. Erin Hixenbaugh, sophomore finance major and Sherwood’s roommate, has been swimming with her for two years. They train in a lot of the same events, causing them to push each other during practices and at competitions.
“[Sherwood] has been a really good motivator for everybody and a person to look up to… even when she had her concussion she always wanted to go to practice and stuff, so that motivates me to want to go to practice,” said Hixenbaugh.
According to Murray, swimmers hit their stride during their second year and now that Sherwood has reached the end of her second year, he can see that not only has she found herself, but she is also on track to blossom into a true leader.
She’s a great role model, and it just happens that swimming is one part of that aspect,” said Murray.
Sherwood will be competing in the Canadian Olympic trials this April (depending on COVID-19) after qualifying in the 200m butterfly in long course. The fastest swimmers from across Canada, including past Olympians, will compete at this event—a pretty big deal for a college sophomore.
“When people ask me who I am, I say I’m a swimmer,” said Sherwood. “It makes me feel good. It makes me proud of myself. When you get to meets and you do well, that’s the feeling that I love and it makes me feel so…it just makes me feel accomplished.”
Brittany Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org