At first, competitive swimming for Jackie Jeschke seemed like the continuation of her family's legacy. But it soon became a nearly all-consuming passion.
"My dad used to be a swim coach and my mom was a swimmer, so they got me into the sport, and I really started to like it," said Jackie, a seventh-grader at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School.
The 12-year-old from Martinez is one of the top young swimmers in the Southeast, having won five state and sectional titles last season and seven this season.
During the Georgia Age Group State Swimming Championships in February, Jackie won first place in the 50-yard backstroke, 100-yard backstroke, 200-yard backstroke and 500-yard freestyle.
Last month at the Southern Zone Eastern Section Age Group Championships, which features some of the best swimmers from Georgia, Kentucky, Lousiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia, Jackie took first place in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke and the 1,650-yard freestyle.
A competitor with the Aiken-Augusta Swim League, Jackie practices year-round, every day except Sunday, to swim in 10 to 13 meets each season.
"You couldn't do it if you didn't love it, because it's not something you can just practice at," she said. "You have to really, really work it."
At 5-foot-4, Jackie is average size for her age, so she can't edge out other swimmers in her 11- to 12-year-old age bracket with longer arms or legs. Her competitive edge comes from a love for practice and meets.
"I have good technique and I just have the heart for swimming," she said.
Jackie first took to swimming about seven years ago.
"When she was 5 years old, we just saw a natural ability in the water," said her mother, Peggy Jeschke. "She belted out a (100-yard individual medley) and we were like, 'Wow. Where did that come from?'
"That's when she just started to love it and we tried to make it work."
Though it would seem tough, Jackie manages her time well, and even squeezes in a season of volleyball each year at her school while continuing to swim.
"If you focus on just one sport, it might get too intense," she said.
Eventually, Jackie hopes to use her swimming talents to earn a scholarship to the University of Florida.
"She loves to practice and she loves her (swimming) friends," Peggy Jeschke said. "That's what keeps her going."
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