An Olympic-Sized Welcome for Tess


It was a welcome home fit for an Olympian. After returning from Omaha, NE, where she competed in the Olympic swimming trials with hopes of making it to Tokyo this year, 16-year-old Tess Howley was given a big Rockaway welcome by a proud community.

On Monday evening, June 21, red, white and blue-clad coaches, teammates, schoolmates, neighbors and friends all gathered to march past the home of Rockaway’s Olympic hopeful and welcome her back. Led by a firetruck and with the Olympics theme song blaring, the crowd let out big cheers for their hometown hero. The night before, Howley had returned home to Neponsit after a 13-day trip at the Olympic swimming trials in Omaha.

One mom, Gen Shaw, who has a daughter on the same team as Tess, even wore the team’s swim cap for the occasion. “We wanted to support her on what an amazing job she did, representing Rockaway, representing the United States,” Shaw said. “She got out there and gave it her all, so we wanted to let her know we’re all proud of her.”

At just 16 years old, Tess Howley, representing the Long Island Aquatic Club, qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympics trials. While Tokyo isn’t in the cards this year, Howley was competing among some of the top swimmers in the country and made an impressive showing, beating some of her personal best times and ranking high among as many as 200 competitors. Howley was tapped for three events in the trials including the 100m butterfly, the 200m butterfly and the 200m freestyle.

In this uber-competitive meet to represent Team USA at the Olympics, only the top two swimmers in each event in the trials go on to the Olympics. For one of the youngest swimmers in the competition, Howley’s results were impressive. To give an idea of just how competitive it was, with sometimes milliseconds making a difference, here were Howley’s results compared to the top swimmers in each event. In the first round of the 200m freestyle, Howley came in 27th place with a time of 200.90 seconds. The top swimmer in that round, Leah Smith, had a time of 1:57.52. However, Howley’s true specialty is arguably the hardest stroke in swimming—butterfly. And in these events, Tess flew! In the first round of the 100m butterfly, Howley came in 27th place with a time of 59.64 seconds. The top swimmer in that round, Kelsi Dahlia, had a time of 56.56. But Tess did even better in the longer race—the 200m butterfly. Making it to the semifinals, Howley came in an impressive 10th place with a time of 2:10.25. The top swimmer in that round, Hali Flickinger, had a time of 2:06.73.

Tess Howley’s major achievement of making it to the Olympic trials comes as no surprise to those who know her. According to Howley’s mom, Mary, Tess has been swimming since she was three years old. She originally swam for St. Francis de Sales CYO until at 10 years old, she decided to take her talent to a bigger platform with LIAC. Just how dedicated is she to the sport? She practices six days a week, pulling doubles three days a week. On those days, Howley practices with LIAC in the morning, then goes to school at Sacred Heart Academy, and then goes back to LIAC for a second round of practice. “Some days she doesn’t get home until eight at night,” her mom, Mary Howley said. “It’s just incredible dedication.”

That dedication has been noted by Howley’s former SFDS CYO coaches who worked with Tess since she was little. Jennifer Mollaghan, who organized the spontaneous parade on Monday, and George Sullivan, had worked with Tess for a few years before she moved on to LIAC. Beyond being a stellar swimmer, both said Howley is an even better person. Even though Howley began practicing with LIAC, she would still compete in CYO meets and she never forgot about the little guys. “Ever since she started swimming, she was a superstar. When she would come to meets, she would support the little kids and encourage them and tell them how to become a better swimmer and give tips and pointers,” Mollaghan said. “She didn’t need much coaching, she was a natural. She’s just an amazing athlete. But more than that, a great person. Humble, humble, humble,” Sullivan said. “She doesn’t talk about swimming and she’s someone who could brag. You never hear it from her. When other kids come out of the pool, and maybe got destroyed, she says ‘hey, you did really good.’ It’s genuine. She’s always happy for everyone.”

That humble personality was shining through as Howley spoke with The Rockaway Times after her surprise welcome home from the community. “This is insane. I feel so special,” she said. Asked about her results, Howley didn’t forget to mention her fellow swimmers from LIAC. Overall, eight swimmers from the Long Island-based club qualified for the Olympic trials. “Everything went pretty well. I went three for three with my best times and my teammates did very well, they all went very fast and did their best times and we all had a great meet,” Howley said.

While she didn’t make the top two to go on to the Olympics this summer, Howley is proud of her accomplishment. “I came in 10th in the 200 fly, which is pretty good for someone my age because it’s against the whole meet. You’re competing against like 200 people. I had my best times, so I was pretty happy,” she said.

At just 16 years old, Howley hasn’t even reached her peak, as she was among swimmers mostly five to ten years older that qualified for the Olympics. Howley is already eyeing the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Does she think she’ll qualify for the next one? “That’s the goal,” she said.

Her parents, Mary and Billy, are ready to support her no matter what. “Getting to this point took a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice, but she got where she wanted to go because of it, so we’re very proud of her,” Mary Howley said. “Her happiness is the most important factor and I hope she achieves whatever her heart desires.”

 By Katie McFadden

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