Ex-Celt Hannah Braun just wrapped up her senior season for the California Baptist University Lancers. Braun was part of a relay team that claimed a national title in 2011. (Photo courtesy of California Baptist University)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

When Hannah Braun left the pools of the Central Valley Conference in 2008, she was a force to be reckoned with. But it was only a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Since joining the ranks of the California Baptist University Lancers, Braun has found success as the college level and on the national stage. In addition to top individual finishes in the NAIA National Championships, Braun was part of an 800-yard relay team that captured a national record in the event in 2011. She’s recently put the cap on her college career as a team co-captain with strong finishes in February’s Pacific Coast Swim Conference Championship.

“I’m going to miss it, I was feeling a bit burned out, but then I realized that I would never be doing it again. I’ve always loved swimming and loved being in the pool,” Braun, 21, said.

Braun, a kinesiology and exercise science major, will graduate from CBU later this year, but the days of transitioning from high school to college swimming remain fresh.

“My last memory was being a senior on the McNary team and a captain. Going from that into a different school and a different state and being a freshman caused me to be very humble,” she said.

Nonetheless she knew from the outset that she wanted to be a leader on the team.

“I committed to being a hard worker regardless of whether I was a freshman or a senior,” Braun said.

She didn’t have certain times she was trying to meet in her freshman year, but saw dramatic drops from her high school performances. While she remains deeply in debt to the guidance of McNary’s Kim Phillips, she said a new coaching system is what helped her improve her performance. When the Lancer coaches held exit meetings at the end of her freshman season, they let her know that they could see her as a future team captain.

Her times rose slightly as a sophomore and junior leading up to the CBU team taking the national title in 2011.

“There were several moments when we weren’t posting our best times, but being able to share it with the team was the most enjoyment I got out of it,” Braun said.

While she enjoys her individual races, Braun likes the push to do well for the sake of her team in relay events.

“You’re sharing the load. There are times when that can be a problem, but there are times when it gives me more adrenaline to go faster,” she said.

Braun is currently working as a physical therapy aide, but has her sights set on a role within Project Walk, a non-profit organization that seeks to provide an improved quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries through intense exercise-based spinal cord injury recovery programs, education, support and encouragement.

Braun had been torn between opportunities as a physical therapist and trainer, but a visit to the organization’s center in San Diego cemented her desire to work with injured patients needing recovery.

“There’s only a few places in the world that do what Project Walk is doing and they have clients from all over the world,” she said. “Everyone that comes in is in wheelchairs. Walking is close to impossible, but the program moves them along a line that they hope will lead to walking. It can also help with everyday things like brushing teeth.”

While it’s bittersweet to leave the pools behind, Braun takes with her traits it helped instill.

“Swimming has taught me to be dedicated and disciplined and such a hard worker. I was lucky because I never swam too much. I never pushed my body over the limit and I’ve been able to continue to enjoy it,” she said.