OMAHA, NEB. — The light shows, the blaring music, the packed arena — Meghan Small had never experienced anything quite like what she felt when she walked out for the 200-meter individual medley final at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
"It's actually really insane," said the resident of Lineboro, in northeastern Carroll County. "I'm not one of those people who can put my headphones on and block it all out."
The 18-year-old finished seventh Wednesday night, a result she was content with in her best event at her first trials.
"I'm pretty pleased with it," she said. "I made it to the top eight in the country at one of the most stressful and pressure-filled meets in the world. So I'll take that."
Small didn't start swimming against serious competition until she was 11, much older than most of her peers. She initially wanted to go to the York (Pa.) YMCA because she thought the pool was pretty.
Until coaches there got a hold of her, she didn't realize she had a latent talent for the sport.
"I had no clue," she said.
Neither did her parents.
"I don't think they knew what they were getting into," she said. "If they had known how much I was going to be away from home, I don't know if they would have done it."
Small will swim the last of her five events, the 200 backstroke, on Friday. Then she'll swim for the University of Tennessee with an eye on being back at 2020 trials as an Olympic contender.
"I think what I've learned is how to deal with the pressure," she said. "It just takes a whole different level of mental strength."