COVID-19 crisis can't stop this star's training

Courtesy photoAbigail Sullivan, 18, of Haverhill is a member of the Naval Academy's Class of 2024 and will be a member of the school's Division 1 swim team.

Having earned a spot on the Naval Academy’s Division 1 swim team, Abigail Sullivan is focused on unconventional ways to train during the global pandemic as she prepares for her freshman year.

She describes a newfound sense of normalcy in the cold, open water of Stiles Pond in Boxford, where she now frequents. In March, her longtime club’s practices were canceled and public pools closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Sullivan is fueled now by her training and community supporters, she said, which includes two Massachusetts legislators who backed her college application.

The 18-year-old Haverhill native is a member of Central Catholic High School Class of 2020. Like the rest of the country’s high school and college seniors, Sullivan will move on without a traditional ceremony or any of the other assumed celebrations.

The sacrifice is upsetting, she said, but not unfamiliar.

“I’ve had to miss out on a lot of things for swimming,” she said, “but this doesn’t feel the same, of course.

“Since I was in eighth grade I’ve been training 10 times a week,” she said. “I have practice before school Monday, Wednesday and Friday; night practice Monday through Friday; middle of the day practice on Saturday.”

The season for competing stretches from October to August.

Sullivan was introduced to the idea of a military career during junior year, when she reconnected with a friend home from the Naval Academy. Before that, she was eyeing civilian schools based on their athletic offerings.

“I had started the college process, but the things she was telling me were different from what I was looking at,” Sullivan said. “I started researching and really liked what I was reading. I sent an email to the assistant swim coach and found out that a recruiter would be at a meet in a few weeks.”

At Sullivan’s request, Congresswoman Lori Trahan and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren reviewed her academics, testing scores and involvement. Each chose to extend one of their limited service academy nominations.

The Naval Academy requires a minimum five years of military service upon graduation. Sullivan said she is leaning toward becoming a surface warfare officer, which would require her to protect aircraft carriers across the world.

Sullivan describes time spent reflecting on her Central Catholic experience while quarantining, praising her teachers for their continued commitment from afar.

One of those teachers is 1990 Central Catholic alum Joseph Welch.

“Swimming was really, really important to her, and something that she seemed passionate about,” Welch said. “It’s important to note that she attributed that same effort to academics.”

On mentally and physically preparing for college and her ensuing service, Sullivan said, “I’ve never felt more secure.”

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