By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Piper Brockley is by all accounts a fun person to be around. Outgoing. Mischievous. But heaven help the hapless person who intrudes upon Brockley’s space when she’s entering The Zone before a swim race.
“A lot these kids are social, fooling around,” Maria Carrillo swim coach Rick Niles said. “Piper gets into her own zone, and it’s one no one invades. Dan (Greaves, the coach of the Neptune Swimming club) doesn’t invade it, her parents don’t invade it. And Dan is really close to her. I’m pretty close to her. But nobody goes there.”
The Zone has been good to Brockley. Swimming as a junior this spring, she accomplished enough to be honored as our All-Empire Girls Swimmer of the Year.
At the North Coast Section championships in May, she was second in the girls 200-yard individual relay and tied for third in the 100-yard breaststroke, making her the only Redwood Empire swimmer with two top-10 finishes. (Petaluma’s Riley Scott was disqualified from the breaststroke on a technicality, or she may have joined Brockley.) She qualified for the first-ever CIF state meet in both events, and wound up sixth in the IM at Clovis, swimming against the best in California.
“For Piper, that’s three weeks in a row,” Niles said, including the North Bay League championships that preceded NCS. “That’s almost impossible to do. Even two in a row is hard. She had to really unload everything she had at NCS, then do it again the next week. After state she was trashed.”
Brockley was also part of Maria Carrillo relay teams that finished 12th in the 200 medley and 19th in the 400 freestyle at the NCS meet. She had the Empire’s second-fastest time in the 500 free this year, and was fourth fastest in the 100 backstroke. And when Niles asked her to swim the 100 free at the NBL championships, Brockley responded by, you know, setting a meet record in the race.
For Brockley, it’s all about the preparation.
“I’m that goofball who can’t swim a mile without getting bored,” she said.
And yet Brockley has logged plenty of miles training with the Neptunes and the Pumas. Not all of them were in the water, either.
Working with Neptunes land trainer Cassandra Lund this spring, Brockley took to wearing a 15-pound weighted vest before races. She would stand behind the starting blocks and do lunge hops and squat jumps.
“I’d get on the blocks and feel so much more power,” Brockley said.
But what really sets her apart is her visualization training. Just before she falls asleep the night before a race, she runs through a detailed visualization of the 100 breast or 200 IM. In her mind she is in the water. She can see her hands sweep in front of her face. On race day, she visualize
the event several more times.
“So I’ve swam my race so many times before I actually swim,” Brockley said.
At practice, her ability to mentally time herself is uncanny.
“I hold a stopwatch in my head when I swim,” Brockley said. “I can hit my split almost to the hundredth of a second.”
And when she’s at a competition, she slides into The Zone. It was Greaves who urged Brockley to develop a way of getting serious about racing, but he scarcely could have guessed how successful it would be. Brockley will wander away from her teammates, red headphones over her ears and jacket over her swimsuit, and listen to whatever strikes her mood that day. Frequently that means inspirational songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or Eminem’s “I’m Not Afraid.”
“I get to that point where I’m not hearing other people sitting next to water,” Brockley said. “I’m so connected to the water. I’m more comfortable swimming than on land.”