MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

May 30, 2014

PHOENIX FEMALE ATHLETE OF YEAR: Golden girl: Lady Tiger overcame back issues to attain success

Leslie White, Fort Gibson

Oklahoma’s loss in gymnastics was Fort Gibson swimming’s gain.

When Leslie White was forced to quit gymnastics because of two herniated disks, she decided to take up swimming as part of the Tiger Sharks youth program.

This year at the Class 5A state meet in Edmond, White completed her high school career by leading the Lady Tigers to their fourth straight championship. During the meet, she won the 100-meter breaststroke, missing the state record by .10 seconds, finished second in the 200 individual medley and was a key member of two relay champions, earning her the 2014 Phoenix Female Athlete of the Year.

“I was kind of surprised,” White said upon hearing of the honor.

When a reoccurence of her earlier back injury flared up at the beginning of the school year, she wasn’t even sure that she would be able to get in the pool for her senior season.

“The first two months of this season were hard for me because I couldn’t get in the pool,” she said. “The first time I was able to get back was the very, very end of December. I remember that because I swam on my birthday.”

And her return was one of the shining moments for Adam and Katrina White, Leslie’s parents.

“Seeing her fight to come back and swim again, and swim competitively, made me proud,” Adam said. “There were several months there where we didn’t know if she would ever swim again. Seeing her conquer that, or make the best of her current situation, makes us most proud as parents.”

It’s that determination to return to swimming that Fort Gibson coach Connie Dean would take from White and instill it in every one of her swimmers.

“It’s her attitude and she’s very encouraging,” Dean said. “She was also our team captain. She was out the beginning of the year and the girls still voted her co-captain. I thought that was a high honor in the trust that the girls had in her.”

When Leslie, who will swim for Oklahoma Baptist in the fall, was forced to quit gymnastics in the seventh grade, it was her parents that pointed her towards swimming.

“My mom said I had to do it,” said White, who is also a cheerleader for the football and basketball teams. “I didn’t want to but she made me go and I liked it. Then I met two of my friends – Whitney Stroup and Brandon Walker – and they said asked me if I wanted to keep swimming. I said yes.”

If you ask Adam White there wasn’t much force required to get his daughter into swimming.

“She had been in gymnastics since she was tiny,” Leslie’s father said. “She didn’t know anything else. Basically, Leslie grew too tall for gymnastics to where it was really hard on her body.

”We had to encourage her about which direction to go because she was really sad having to leave gymnastics. But once she was in the pool, it was off to the races.”

Leslie’s parents attended the University of Arkansas but did not participate in athletics. Adam doesn’t know where his daughter’s talent came from.

“We can’t figure it out at all,” he said.

When reflecting back on her year, there are two things that Leslie will take away from her final season.

“I am a senior and it was nice to go out with a really big bang,” she said. “It was exciting to be part of this for four years. Also, when I was out, the girls were saying ‘Oh Leslie, we’re ready for you to come back.’”

And when she came back, it was just as if she had never missed a stroke, establishing a school record in the 100 breaststroke, which she considers her favorite event.

“Breaststroke is a really weird stroke,” she said. “It’s kind of awkward. Some people just can’t do it but it works for me.”

And it really worked for her at the state meet with first place in the event. She had no idea how fast she was going.

“I didn’t know I was that close to the record,” Leslie said. “I didn’t think it was within reach because I hadn’t been swimming the whole season. I was thinking about (the record) but didn’t think I was that close.”

Every year, Dean has to say good-bye to swimmers and this year is no different. It’s Leslie’s competitive nature that the coach will miss most.

“Whether it’s cheerleading or swimming or gymnastics or in the classroom, she wanted to be the best,” Dean said. “She has great support at home and her family life has helped her to be as good as she is. Her work ethic will be her legacy.

“Just knowing that I could count on her. Everybody feared her and they knew in the breaststroke, she was in a class of her own.”

Leslie White is the third swimmer to win the award as the area’s top female athlete, selected solely by the Phoenix sports staff. The others were Kendra Dean (2006) and Brennan Miller (2007). Both Dean and Miller were also basketball standouts.

“Leslie had faster times than Carley in all but the 50 and 100 freestyle, but Carley was an All-American in those two events,” Dean said. “The only event Kendra’s time beat Leslie’s was in the 50 freestyle. Leslie this year set school records this year in the 100 breaststroke and the 200 IM and both of those occurred at state.”

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