Lake Norman & Mooresville

Beset by injuries, swimmer still wins

Heather Isetts made a quick impact in the pool when she first arrived at Lake Norman High.

Already one of the top swimmers in her age group for SwimMAC as a 14-year-old, Isetts not only won the 100- and 200-yard races at the North Piedmont Conference meet, but also claimed regional titles in both events and capped her season with a 3A state title in the 100-yard freestyle.

Isetts had to win the race twice in 15 minutes, after an inadvertent whistle forced officials to make the call to run the race again.

"What Heather did in that race is still one of the greatest accomplishments I've seen in sports," said Lake Norman swimming coach Jonathan Busch. "She came out in front of about 4,000 people and won it not once, but twice. I will never forget that moment."

Isetts' success as a freshman propelled her even further. She continued to train tirelessly with SwimMAC, where she practices six days a week.

Her weekly regimen with her club, where she has trained for the past 10 years, now includes at least 25 hours and at least 40,000 yards of swimming per week.

When it seemed as though nothing could stop her, however, she suffered a serious injury.

Isetts had a hip injury that caused chronic pain, forcing to her go to rehabilitation and change her practice schedule at times.

Then, as she continued to train and swim through the pain, some of her problems shifted to her back, where she also experienced a lot of discomfort. That affected the amount of practice and competition that she could take.

"When I had to miss some practices and then practice without my teammates, that was really tough on me," Isetts said. "Not only was I hurting, but I also felt a disconnect from the team. That was the toughest part."

While Isetts was hurting on the inside, she still performed at a high level in the pool.

She won the 100- and 200-yard freestyle in her sophomore season at both the I-Meck conference and the 4A West Regional meets. Isetts also finished third in the state in the 100 free and eighth in the 200 free. And she was on the 200-free relay team - with teammates Morgan Holbrook, Sierra Johnson and Haley Powell - that was state runnerup.

"It was frustrating at times, not to swim the way I wanted to," Isetts said. "But I am a really positive person, so I just kept pushing."

Isetts' junior season came with similar pain and more rehab, but she worked through it to swim four personal-best times last spring: in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles, the 100 backstroke and the 100 butterfly.

She won the 100 butterfly at the I-Meck and 4A West Regional meets, while finishing ninth at states.

"Regardless of her injuries and pain, Heather never quit, never complained. She was always a leader," said Busch, who named Isetts a captain the past two years. "That stuff may have stopped her from achieving some of her ultimate goals in the pool, but it never affected her as a person.

"She is a great swimmer, but she is a better person, and I think that has helped her through a lot of this."

Isetts earned Scholastic All-America status, a distinction given by USA Swimming to student athletes who meet certain national qualifying times and hold at least a 3.5 grade-point average in school.

Now Isetts, a 17-year-old senior, feels the best she felt has since her freshman year and hopes her last high school season is one to remember.

She hasn't decided whether she will swim in college, listing Clemson, Georgia and South Carolina as her top choices, but she is working as hard as ever in the pool.

Isetts works mainly with SwimMAC coach Chris Webb and longtime club teammates and friends Heather Merritt, Katie O'Brien and Payton Schrum, all Hough High standouts.

Isetts opened this season year by winning the 50- and 100-freestyle events at the Pfeiffer Invitational for Lake Norman in a talented field. She hopes to improve her times in all events in the next month or so, to be at her best for the conference, regional and state championship meets.

"My goal for Heather is just to enjoy her senior year and do the best she can," Busch said. "But deep down I know she wants to finish at Lake Norman as a state champion."

Isetts agrees with her coach.

"My goal every year is to win a state championship," she said. "I hope to get my times down, so I can be in the conversation."