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Granite City resident Emma Cox competes in the backstroke in a recent meet for the Rockwood Swim Club.
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Cox has been competing with the Rockwood Swim Club since she was 8.
After spending all day Nov. 3 in classes at Coolidge Junior High School, Emma Cox wasn’t planning on taking a break.
Cox has to make the 45-minute trip to Rockwood Summit High School in Fenton, Mo., to practice with the Rockwood Swim Club. After practicing for two hours, Cox heads back home to Granite City to complete her homework.
“She puts in a lot of hard work,” Rockwood Swim Club coach Sean Harrison said. “We’re thrilled to have her and it’s always good to have somebody who is willing to be that committed and make such a not-normal contribution coming over from such a long way away each and every day.”
For several years, Cox has made the long trip to Rockwood Summit and Lafayette high schools to practice with the Rockwood Swim Club after school and Saturday mornings.
Her grandfather drives her there Monday through Friday and her mother, Kari, takes her there Saturday mornings.
Cox, who turned 14 on Friday, said she doesn’t mind making the long drive to practice.
“Back then, it was time-consuming, but it’s routine now,” Cox said.
So far, Cox has been a valuable performer for the Rockwood Swim Club. She holds the club’s second-fastest 100 backstroke long course time in the 11-12 girls division. Earlier this year, she qualified and competed in the NASA short course meet in Clearwater, Fla., and participated in the Ozark Central Zones meet in Topeka, Kan.
A year ago, Cox won the 50 and 100 backstroke races at the Ozark Long Course Championships and placed in the top eight in the 100 backstroke in the USA Central Zone Championships. She also got a sectional cut in the 200 backstroke and competed in the Region 8 spring sectionals in Jenks, Okla., and competed in the Open Water National Championships in Fort Myers, Fla.
“As far as locally, she’s one of the top 13-14 girls in the St. Louis area,” Harrison said. “Our whole group right now of 13-14 girls is among the most talented group of that age group in the St. Louis area. So she’s got a bunch of friends who are just like her, only they live a lot closer.”
Cox, an eighth-grader at Coolidge, is the only Illinois resident on the Rockwood Swim Club. She tried out for the club at age 8.
“I started swimming on a summer league team with my stepsister when I was about 5 or 6,” Cox said. “There was a family on a summer league team that swam for Rockwood and they said that I had real potential ... they told me that I should go try out for the team and I did and I fell in love with it.”
Suddenly, swimming became Cox’s favorite sport.
“It’s a very social sport and you have to know how to react with people because we spend like two hours a day with each other every day,” Cox said. “Then, we have swim meets. I really just fell in love with the whole social part of it. It’s been a part of my life since I was little.”
When she’s not swimming, Cox plays the clarinet for the Coolidge Junior High School band. She participated in the Illinois Music Education Association band concert Nov. 6-7 in Carbondale. Cox also makes straight As.
“She’s kind of amazing,” said Denni Buckingham, Cox’s grandmother. “We’re always in shock. She brings home straight As. I keep wondering if she’s being challenged enough. She’s got her plate full, that’s for sure. She’s very dedicated. You never have to tell her what to eat or drink. If I ask her, ‘Would you like dessert?’ Emma would say, ‘No, grandma, I’ve got championships coming up. I shouldn’t have that.’ She’s very dedicated and very focused.”
Buckingham said she loves watching her granddaughter swim.
“I’m thrilled to death,” she said. “We started babysitting her to help my daughter Kari out from the day she was born. She wanted to swim in the backyard pool when she was 18 months old. I’m just thrilled because it’s fun to watch her. We’re just silent spectators. It’s really fun. I enjoyed it a lot. I grew up being a lifeguard and swim instructor. It’s like a dream come true.”
Cox credits her mother for her success in the pool and in the classroom.
“She helps me a lot,” said Cox, who wants to be a marine biologist in the future. “She pushes me when I’m tired. I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to practice today. I’m tired.’ She’s like, ‘Oh, but you know you have to.’ She helps me with my homework and helps me keep my grades up.”
Kari Cox said her daughter has a strong work ethic.
“She continues to impress and surprise me, that’s for sure,” she said. “She’s a very hard worker. As much time as we spend in the car, she’s able to maintain straight As and get all of her homework done. She gives up a lot to do the sport that she loves. She had to turn down a lot of invitations to parties and dances and things because she doesn’t want to miss practice. She’s very tough and resilient and I’m very proud of her.”
Emma Cox said her goal is to compete in the Olympics.
“I’m only 14, so I’m not ready to go to the Olympics yet,” she said. “But that is my dream.”