Richmond Hill High School student and ace swimmer Sara Baker recently signed a letter of intent to attend Milligan College on a shared academic and athletic scholarship.
"I think it’s a great sport, and I enjoy it," said Baker. "I never expected it to get me this far."
Milligan, located in Tennessee, was the one Christian college Baker looked at that provided a liberal arts curriculum, which was pivotal to her decision as she is targeting the school’s exercise science program in order to become a physical therapist.
As a coincidence, the college is in the midst of starting up a swim team, which opened up the possibility for an athletic scholarship.
"Everything just kind of fell into place," said Baker.
"This is the first year of our swim team," said swim coach Roan Goehring. "I was hired to assemble the team and Sara was one of the first ones I contacted. I was very impressed with not only her swimming ability, but also her leadership skills and her mission trips to Haiti. We’re hopeful to have some swimmers qualify in March to attend the NAIA national championships in San Antonio and I anticipate Sara to play a lead roll."
Baker has made numerous mission trips to help underprivileged children in Haiti. In June, Baker heads back to Haiti for a two-week goodwill trip.
"I’m so excited about it," said Baker of her upcoming trip. "I’m looking forward to getting to see a bunch of my friends that I made last year and have kept in touch with through letters."
"She’s got good balance between her responsibilities to herself and her responsibilities and desires to help people around her," said her father, Brian Baker. "She’s quite adventurous as well. In addition to her Haiti trips, she’s taken up sky diving."
"Her faith is what drives a lot of her decisions," Brian added. "Her choices in college, which she knows is a huge stepping stone to her future, drove her to a Christian college which fits right in to who she is and is reflective of what’s important to her. She’s always been more mature than her peers, and I think she’s reaping those rewards right now."
Sara’s father introduced her to the world of swimming. Brian Baker has had more than a passing interest in the sport as he started up the Atlanta-based Northlake Aquatic Club, with some of the 100-plus kids under his training becoming nationally ranked swimmers.
Sara first entered the world of competitive swimming at 11-years-old, and began religiously attending practice as a member of the Savannah Swim Team, which includes an arduous daily routine of heading to the pool in Chatham County at 4 a.m., and back again in the evening.
Richmond Hill Middle School principal Helen Herndon recalls Sara’s efforts and determination at a young age.
"During her middle school years, she would come rushing into school so as not to be late," said Herndon. "One morning, I asked her about the rush and her wet hair. She told me about the swimming practices she attended every morning in Savannah. From that morning on, I have followed her progress daily with the swim practices. We are so proud of her for her dedication and determination to be the best swimmer possible."
Although Richmond Hill High School does not have a swim team, RHHS staff member Pat Paruso, whose own daughter is an Olympic hopeful in swimming, has taken an interest in Sara and helped her along the way.
"Swimming is practice," Paruso said. "It’s how you practice that determines your skill, and I could truly tell you that Sara works hard at those morning and evening practices. That work ethic she developed is going to hold true for her as a collegiate swimmer and also in her academics. She’s dedicated and she’s ready to step it up a notch and take it to the next level."