She was 45 years old and competing in a swim meet for the first time since she was in high school.
“I was a little nervous at first, getting on the blocks. Maybe a lot nervous,” said Northport’s Rachel Cobia of that re-entry into competitive swimming which took place at a Masters Swim meet hosted by Auburn. “It was a pretty big meet, and it was a bigger pool than I had ever swum in because we didn’t really get to swim in Olympic pools a long time ago. So it was exciting and fun.
“I think I was 45 when I went to that meet, and I hadn’t swum in a meet since I was 15. So that would have been 30 years.”
Despite the decades that had lapsed, Cobia returned home, ribbon in hand.
On Dec. 7, Cobia, at age 48, found herself at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, being honored by the governor of Alabama, Tuscaloosa’s Dr. Robert Bentley, and the Alabama Sports Foundation as the 2016 Alabama State Games’ Adult Female Athlete of the Year, a result of her winning one gold medal (50 freestyle) and five silver medals at the state games in June.
As the winner, she will carry the torch at the 2017 State Games’ opening ceremony.
“It was really fun and amazing and it was such an honor,” Cobia said. “It was not something that happens every day. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
She first learned of the State Games four years ago while browsing online for upcoming Masters swimming events. She thought it would be something fun to do as family. She signed them up, and they’ve been competing there together ever since. In that span, Cobia has won 20 gold, silver and bronze medals at the State Games.
“When I was 6, my mom signed my siblings and me up for swimming, and she signed up as an adult to learn to swim so that she could keep us safe. I swam growing up, and I was on a team when I was in high school, but I wasn’t really fast,” Cobia confessed. “I wasn’t fast enough to swim in college competitively, but now I’m swimming competitively again, and it’s really fun.”
Cobia grew up in Homewood but moved to Northport where she’s an accountant. She’d lived there for years before she discovered Tuscaloosa offered a Masters swimming program.
“I saw that they had meets for grownups, and I thought that would be really fun to do,” Cobia said. “I had my first meet four or five years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
So hooked she’s since formed her own team, Masters Anchors Swim Club.
“I wanted to be in relays that my mom and my sister swim. We had plenty of people (family) to start our own relay team.”
Her brother is joining the team, which will be a plus for competing as a family in mixed relay events. All five of her children are, or have been, competitive swimmers as well. Her mother, 73, never swam competitively until about four years ago, joining Rachel. With her mom, her siblings and her children, it makes for three generations competing together at meets.
“It’s not very common,” Cobia said. “It really is special for us.”
They swim as a family in the medley relay and the freestyle relay as well as individual events. And it’s that family dynamic that led her to compete, four years ago, in Pennsylvania at the Games of America where she won the 200 breaststroke.
“If you win a medal at your state games, you are allowed to compete at the Games of America,” said Cobia who competes in the 45-49 age division. “We’re kind of this crazy family who plans their vacations around swim meets. We went to that, and had such a great time and we won medals. Swimming is something we all really enjoy together.”