Parish Gold Medalist Swimming Her Way to Harvard

When you watch her proficient swimming strokes, Mei Lynn Colby might seem like she was born to be in the water. Yet at first, Colby’s mother, Valerie, encouraged her to try just about every sport she could find. At 6, she jumped in the pool at Brookhaven Country Club.

“When I was younger, I couldn’t really sit still. She was looking for a good outlet for the amount of energy that I had,” Colby said. “I tried swimming and I just stuck with it.”

When she reached middle school, Colby decided to focus full-time on swimming. In high school, she subsequently set multiple TAPPS state records. Her two individual gold medals at this year’s state meet gave the Parish Episcopal senior seven for her career to go with one silver. And that comes in the maximum of eight races — two per year. More remarkably, Colby has won in a different discipline each time.

“She can win any of the events,” said Parish swimming coach Lia Oberstar-Brown. “She’s learned how to stand out and be herself through swimming.”

Valerie Colby adopted Mei Lynn from a Chinese orphanage and brought her back to Dallas when she was 1 year old. A year later, she was joined by another girl, Lian, who became her younger sister. Both have attended Parish since they were in elementary school.

“I got very lucky in that I had a very accepting school,” Mei Lynn said. “I didn’t face a lot of the stereotypes that some of my other Asian friends have.”

Mei Lynn credits her development in part to her coaches, including longtime club coach Chris MacCurdy at Academy of Texas Aquatic Champions. But she also possesses a work ethic that comes from Valerie, who raised the two girls as a single mother while holding a full-time job. She died of cancer in 2011.

“Because she was so driven and hard working, I kind of followed in her footsteps and wanted to make her proud,” Mei Lynn said.

Since Valerie’s death, the girls have been raised by their godmother, Lynette Hammitt, a family friend who sold her business and moved to Dallas to become their guardian. “She made a huge sacrifice to come here,” Mei Lynn said. “I honestly don’t know if I will ever be able to repay her. She’s an incredible woman.”

Mei Lynn’s talent both in and out of the pool will lead her to Harvard, the only school to which she applied after visiting last fall. She admits it was a leap of faith, one that was validated when she was accepted in December.

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