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Even Crohn’s Disease can’t keep Trinity Academy swimmer Aleca Howard’s sights off Olympics

The last big meet Trinity Academy sophomore Aleca Howard swam was in mid-March at Sectionals in Columbia, Mo., when she won four medals, two more than she expected.

Howard placed higher than seeded in the 200 breaststroke (third in 2:17.84), 100 breaststroke (seventh in 1:04.33), 200 individual medley (sixth in 2:05.18) and the 50 butterfly (seventh in 25.35), an event she didn’t expect to even finish in the top eight.

She has already qualified for state in the 200 IM and the 100 breast — she took second in both events in Class 5-1A as a freshman — and her 200 IM is more than four seconds better and more than a second faster in the 100 breast. She would have won state last year with her current times.

But what might be even more impressive than her staggering numbers is how far Howard has come since weighing 60 pounds as a sixth grader when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease.

“Olympics is the big goal,” Howard said. “But ever since I was 12 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s, I’ve had to work my way back up to where I was supposed to be. … This past year I got sectionals in all my races and futures and junior national cuts.

“I’ve thought about all the hard work paying off. I’ve been thinking about how the next step is the Olympics. I’ve been thinking about that since I was 5.”

Howard started swimming at the Wichita Swim Club at age 2 and has been swimming competitively since age 5.

“I love the environment and the feeling of what I think about when I dive in,” she said. “All the thoughts that run through my head when I’m swimming, being there with the team, and it’s nice competing.

“… Most of the time I’m (thinking), ‘you’re almost there’ or ‘there’s a 50 left’ or I see the other person next to me and ‘I have to beat her.’ Or if I’m racing at a meet, (my mind is) just blank.”

Her mental strength is impressive. It helps her get through a grueling practice schedule and swimming against some of the top competitors in the country.

“Every time I go to practice, I never have a negative attitude,” Howard said. “I’m always positive. I have that drive in me to achieve my goals and times. I work with my coaches really well, and they work well with me.”

But Crohn’s Disease could have derailed all her plans.

As a fifth grader, she was always cold at practice and wasn’t retaining food, so she wasn’t gaining any weight.

She was all of 60 pounds and still swimming competitively.

“I was skin and bones,” Howard said.

Everything changed when she had a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with Crohn’s. The diagnosis was hugely important, but the road back to full strength took the next two years.

“It drove me to become stronger, to gain a lot more weight and eat a lot more while taking care of my body,” Howard said. “But getting back into the pool, I was not as fast as the others. I was sometimes doubting myself.

“But knowing I had Crohn’s, I knew I could get stronger and work harder in practice.”

She went on a nearly six-month diet where she drank five PediaSures a day.

“I have 100 percent more (strength and energy),” Howard said. “A ton more. I gained a ton of muscle, and you can see that. Even throughout school, I have so much energy.”

As for that Olympics goal, she is surrounded by family and coaches providing support and knowledge.

Trinity alum Caroline Bruce McAndrew set state records and competed in the Olympics.

“I’ve gotten lessons from her,” Howard said. “She’s a great motivator.”

Trinity coach Shelly Green believes Howard can be an Olympic qualifier.

“I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that Aleca will be on the Olympic stage in the not-so-distant future,” Green wrote in an email. “… With her recent success at the 2023 Region VIII Speedo Spring Sectionals, she is well on her way.”

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