A dream comes true: Brand will swim at the Olympics

Federal Way resident will jump in the pool for Zimbabwe at 2008 Summer Games in Beijing

By CASEY OLSON, The Mirror

Heather Brand is a long way from home.

But that’s nothing new to the 25-year-old. That’s just the price she is having to pay to chase her lifelong dream of swimming at the Olympic Games.

Brand was born in South Africa and raised in the country of Zimbabwe. She then moved to Baton Rouge, La., to attend college before settling in Federal Way a year and a half ago.

The time away from her family has paid off — big time — and earned her a trip even farther away from her current home.

Brand has been notified by the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee that she will represent the country this summer at the Beijing games.

She has achieved the automatic-qualifying time in the 100-meter butterfly and is still trying to qualify for the 200 butterfly.

Zimbabwe does things a little different than the United States, as far as qualifying athletes for the Olympics.

The country doesn’t have Olympic Trials because there are just not enough athletes in Zimbabwe to hold them.

“I think she is now ranked in the top-20 in the world and she deserves to be part of Team Zimbabwe 2008,” ZOC chief executive Robert Mutsauki said.

“That’s been my dream ever since I was 5 years old,” Brand said. “Swimming is my ultimate passion. My drive is something that’s always been a part of me and I would do anything to make my dream come true.”

Doing anything meant leaving her native Africa for the deep south region of the United States after her high school years.

“I was recruited in high school and offered a scholarship to (Louisiana State University),” Brand said. “I took it and I’ve never been more happy about a decision in my life. Everyone knows if you want to continue a sport and get better, you come to America.”

During her time at LSU, Brand was the only Tiger to swim at the 2005 NCAA Championships during her junior season and followed with another appearance as a senior. She has the third-best time in the history of LSU swimming in the 100-yard butterfly and the sixth-fastest in the 50 free.

But it’s what has happened after her graduation from LSU that has been even more impressive. That’s when Brand came to Federal Way to train with the acclaimed King Aquatic Club, which calls the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center home, and head coach Sean Hutchison.

“I just fell in love with the program and his philosophy,” Brand said. “I knew that I had to move and this was the place for me. So I packed up my car and drove four days to Seattle. I didn’t know anyone, but I knew I would be swimming for one of the best coaches in America.”

Since joining King, Brand has shaved seconds off her personal-best times, while training with some of the best women swimmers in the world, including gold medal breast-stroker Megan (Quann) Jendrick.

“I am so glad that I made the move,” Brand said. “It was the best thing for me.”

Hutchison has been the head coach of King Aquatic Club since September 2002. In that time, the team has transformed from a regionally competitive club into an emerging national power. During Coach Hutchison’s tenure, the King Aquatic Club has won the American Short Course Championships, Senior Sectional Championships, PNS Championships, two individual national titles, broken several national age group records and accomplished a whole host of other competitive achievements.

Brand is currently putting in seven days a week in the pool in preparation for this summer’s Olympic Games in China. She is also working with a trainer, a nutritionist and chiropractor Greg Summers at his Federal Way office multiple times a week.

“There is definitely some form of extra excitement, being the Olympics,” said Brand, who swam at the World Championships in 2005 and ‘07. “Some people get nervous about new pools. I just know I’m going to give it 100 percent, but I do that even if it wasn’t the Olympic Games. A pool is just a pool. The starting blocks are starting blocks and my lane is just my lane.

“You get into the Olympics and anything can happen.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com