Fifth-year senior Grace Countie's decision to return to UNC for another year ultimately came down to discovering what else her body could do after continuous high-level performance.
After earning All-America honors in each of her previous years at North Carolina, Countie was left wondering what her peak would look like after already accomplishing so much.
“I feel like each year I'm here, I somehow progress in my training or my strength and I wanted to see what else I could accomplish this year,” Countie said.
When the pandemic cut her sophomore season short, Countie knew she had to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility that was offered from the NCAA. Leaving the NCAA Championship with an unexpected personal-best last season further solidified her decision to return to the pool for the fifth straight year, where she has already found success.
Countie holds the UNC record in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a 3:13.15 time at the Georgia Tech Invitational her sophomore season. In her junior season, Countie earned the second-best times in school history for the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle at the national championship meet.
In Countie’s senior year, she was the anchor leg on the UNC record-setting 400-yard medley relay. Just last month, she earned ACC Swimmer of the Week after the season-opener.
Despite this long list of accolades, Countie’s still hungry for more.
"I feel like after last year, and after my championship season performance, I thought that I had more to offer," she said.
Sophie Lindner, also a member of the UNC record 400-yard freestyle relay, is also returning for her fifth year as a graduate student at the Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Countie and Lindner met at the 2016 Olympic trials before committing to UNC. The pair became close in their second year and have helped each other improve as swimmers.
When Countie made her decision to return for her fifth year, she was adamant about convincing Lindner to join her for another season.
“I wouldn't be able to do it without her because she's such a tough individual,” Countie said. “I'm excited to have her with me during this last leg of our grand tour.”
The enthusiastic personality that Countie supplies has helped Lindner relax and enjoy the fun parts of swimming. When Countie finds an opportunity to make one of teammates laugh, she takes it.
Lindner recalled a moment when Countie helped ease her mind at the 2022 NCAA Championship, allowing her to break into the consolation final of the 100-yard backstroke event.
“She (is) always instilling confidence in me,” Lindner said of the moment. “I'm like ‘I got this, I'm good.'"
The two record breakers' passion for the sport and the positive team atmosphere drove them to return simply because they aren’t done setting their names in stone.
UNC head coach Mark Gangloff called Countie and Lindner the "top leaders of the program in the last three years" and said "it's exciting to have them back another year after all their hard work."
“I'm really glad that they're able to kind of go on this journey together,” he said. “They really complement one another when we're training and in competition.”
Gangloff said he believed this season will be their best one yet, since Countie and Lindner look better than they have in previous seasons.
On the last leg of her UNC swimming tour, Countie plans to enjoy her fifth year by making memories, breaking more records and continuing to be a source of encouragement to her teammates.
“Being a source of goodness in people's lives and making other people happy,” Countie said. “That's really what I want to do.”
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