After taking her junior year off, McHenry’s Payton Lange made her biggest splash as a senior.
Lange, who will swim next year at Iowa, qualified for the girls state swimming and diving meet for the third time in three seasons, taking eighth in the 200-yard freestyle and 11th in the 500 free.
Lange also made it to state as a freshman and sophomore and finishes her high school career with four medals in three years. Lange joins two-time state champion Brianne Fowles as only the second McHenry girls swimmer to medal at state, according to records on IHSA.org.
Lange was named Most Valuable Swimmer at the Fox Valley Conference Invitational, breaking two meet records in the 200 free and 500 free. She also broke three longstanding McHenry pool records this year, previously held by Fowles. All three – the 100, 200 and 500 free – stood for 25 years or more.
For her accomplishments, Lange was voted 2018 Northwest Herald Girls Swimmer of the Year, as chosen by the sports staff. Lange is the first McHenry swimmer to win the award since 1995. Fowles won four straight times, starting in 1992.
Lange recently spoke with sports writer Alex Kantecki about getting her start in swimming, her troubles in sports outside of the pool, why she always is yawning before big meets and more.
How did you first start swimming?
Lange: You know when you’re younger and your parents just put you in all the sports possible? Well ... winter came around, and we had just moved to a new house, and we had an in-ground pool. At first, my dad was like, “Payton, show your friends that you can swim,” and threw me in the deep end. I had no idea how to swim. So my mom thought it would be a good idea to put me on a swim team for a winter sport. I was 7 when I started, and it kind of just grew from there.
What actress would play you in a movie about your life?
Lange: Blake Lively.
Who is the most famous person you have taken a picture with?
Lange: (American swimmer and six-time Olympic medalist) Matt Grevers.
Which one of your teammates makes you laugh?
Lange: When my sister (Hannah) was on the team, she made me laugh, just because we have so many inside jokes. The other one is Megan Frost, because we’re the only two people I know where we can have a conversation with absolutely no filter. We just get each other; we just joke around. She always has a positive attitude.
What would you change about swimming?
Lange: I would make more relay options. I’d make a shorter IM relay, like everyone does when they’re younger. That would be fun.
Who had the biggest effect on you as an athlete?
Lange: Definitely, (McHenry coach) George (Keenan). I don’t think that I’ve ever bonded with a coach as much as I have with him, and I’ve never met any coach who’s believed in me as much as him.
What is something you are not good at, but wish you could do well?
Lange: Anything other than swimming. I’m the most uncoordinated person ever. I wish I could shoot a basketball, I wish I could run. ... My limbs are just too long, and my body is flailing any time I do anything. Doing jumping jacks, my sister makes fun of me.
What is your favorite kind of ice cream?
Lange: Ben and Jerry’s, “The Tonight Dough.” It’s the one they made with Jimmy Fallon. It’s so good.
Do you have any nicknames?
Lange: My grandma calls me Pete. I’m not sure why.
Which professional athlete would you like to hang out with for a day?
Lange: (American gymnast) Simone Biles. I just think she does so much outside of gymnastics. She’s so funny and so bubbly. I think we’d get along.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what three things would you bring with you?
Lange: Scrunchies, my Birkenstocks and probably my phone.
Do you have any rituals or superstitions before you swim?
Lange: One of the things I always do is yawn. If you look at me before I’m swimming, I’m yawning for like five minutes straight. It’s not because I’m tired. I think I just get so nervous, and I’m stretching and I’m trying to get my oxygen to my body. Everyone looks at me like, “Wake up!”
What is your favorite thing about swimming?
Lange: Definitely the bonds that you get to make. Swimmers are a breed of their own. I would also say it’s a good way to escape, relax and clear your mind. Just jumping in the water calms me down.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Lange: Work hard, play hard.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Lange: When people don’t look at the clock in swimming and don’t know the intervals and the times. That’s my biggest pet peeve. And, personally, it has to be when people chew very loud.
What would be your dream vacation spot?
Lange: I’ve never been to Hawaii, and I really want to go there. I’d just go someplace warm.
What are three of your favorite TV shows?
Lange: “New Girl” for all three of them. Because it’s the only TV show that I watch repeatedly.
Which teammate inspires you?
Lange: My sister, because we’re sisters and everything we do is competitive. She always pushes me, and I always push her. Megan (Frost), because she always has a good attitude and is always happy to be there. She’s all about the team. And Kyle Falkstrom. I swim with him on club, and he knows all the numbers. He knows my times better than I do. He’s definitely a student of the sport, and he definitely pushes me really hard in the pool.
Who is your biggest hero?
Lange: My hero would be my grandma. Last year, she had a heart attack, followed by a stroke, and she’s still kicking. Every day, she shows me that you have to work hard, and there’s always something to look forward to. And my sister is one of my heroes. Even though I’m younger than her, she’s made it very clear that I’m one of her heroes, so she’s definitely one of mine.
Which musical act would you most like to see in concert?
Lange: I’ve seen Thomas Rhett before, but I’d probably see him again because I cried my eyes out the first time I saw him. I’d want to see Elton John, too.
What will you remember most about McHenry?
Lange: I’m a part of Link Crew, so I get to mentor all of the freshmen. That’s definitely something I’ll remember. They’re so funny. They make me laugh, and they make my day. I remember being a freshman and being so scared, so I love helping out. And also all my friends. I’ve gotten so close with them, and they’re always there for me. I love my friends so much.
What are you looking forward to most at Iowa?
Lange: Everything. I feel like I was born to be a Hawkeye. All of my cousins went there, so I just grew up with the Hawks. I love the school. As soon as I stepped foot inside, I felt at home. Have you seen their pool? Their pool is awesome. The team is great, the coaches are great, and they made me feel right at home. I’m excited to get there and train harder than I even do now. I can’t wait.