There’s not much junior Joe Hayburn hasn’t accomplished at this point.
Two years ago, nerves chained the St. Mary’s swimmer’s legs at the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference meet and the then-freshman finished fourth in the 100 backstroke.
This weekend, the same swimmer catapulted into history by claiming a record time at the National Catholic High School Championship Meet, the first athlete from Anne Arundel to ever do so. That time — 48.34 seconds in the 100-yard backstroke — earned the Loyola Maryland commit an All-America classification, also a first for an Anne Arundel swimmer on that stage.
His record snapped the previous mark by a half-second and now sits next to decorated Olympian and Towson native Michael Phelps, who owns the pool record in the same event.
In some ways, that was the same St. Mary’s boy who pulled himself out of the pool after hitting the wall fourth just two years ago. But truthfully, the Joe Hayburn that conquered highly-skilled competitors this past weekend was a new one, emboldened by the Olympic trials.
Flashback to June, to warm, morning sunshine blanketing a jubilant crowd of St. Mary’s students and teachers cheering on Hayburn as he began his journey to Omaha, Nebraska, and the USA Swimming Olympic trials. He was the first St. Mary’s male swimmer to make an Olympic trial cut.
Hayburn was always a good swimmer — all the Hayburns are. But the third son that returned from Omaha had a new style about him.
“He had a confidence,” St. Mary’s coach Allyson Reiter said. “He had finally put himself where he had always belonged, which is a member of the ... elite.”
Reiter knows Hayburn doesn’t see himself that way, even as he received the same invitation as the likes of Olympians Michael Andrew, Caeleb Dressel and so on. But to be treated with the same respect given to those greats seemed to give Hayburn more trust in himself, from the coach’s perspective. It was his dream to reach that level and he made it happen.
“So coming to these other meets completely aware of everything I’ve accomplished takes the extra pressure off myself,” Hayburn said, “and really just to go in and give it everything I have and be happy with the results no matter what.”
Hayburn carries the same sunny positivity as his siblings. When he competes, a genuine joy seems to follow him like an aura. It is for that reason, too, Hayburn swam as well as he did. The pressure didn’t seep in as deeply as it would another.
“I’m just going in trying to have fun,” he said. “That’s all I can do, all I can hope for in a sport, to enjoy every moment of it.”
That isn’t to say Hayburn coasted to his achievement. After a somewhat easy Saturday preliminary run, Reiter and her junior swimmer knew the competition would save their true potential for Sunday’s final. That competition included NC State commit JT Ewing, of Gonzaga, and Texas commit Ryan Branon, a Loyola Blakefield senior who edged Hayburn at the MIAA championships in 2020. Both swimmers took gold in their other events Sunday.
Hayburn said he knew his competitors were “great from great teams” and that he’d have to drill deep within himself to find the guts he needed to beat them.
“So once I hit the water and my timer went off, I was blazing through the [lane] and I was happy. I was feeling good,” Hayburn said. “I was trying my hardest to get to the wall as soon as possible, but it just felt good to be out there racing.”
Hayburn and Reiter’s prediction did turn out to be true. Both swimmers considerably whittled their times from preliminary to final. But the St. Mary’s junior blew them both out by a full second which, in swimming, might as well be a mile.
Hayburn’s record-breaking time shaved a tenth of a second off his personal best. For swimmers, that’s usually the goal: always reaching a new personal best, and Hayburn intends to cut it even more before high school and club season ends.
“I’m still blown away by everything that happens,” Hayburn said. “It’s always fun to achieve these things, but it’s always about setting new goals.”
But with another first-in-history accomplishment under Hayburn’s belt, it’s hard to see what more he can achieve that he hasn’t done already before graduation.
“As far as high school accolades go, there really are few,” Reiter said. “But if you know Joe, he’s just going to set a goal to make our whole team better. And there’s room for that.”