GREENSBORO-Carolyn Pratt stood near the starting blocks on the deck by the pool at Corbett Sports Center during a break in the events on Friday.
She was surrounded by family members-family forged from blood ties and family forged from the bonds of team fellowship-holding two bouquets of flowers, with tears mixing with pool water on her face. She was being addressed by sophomore Aarin Miles as part of the North Carolina A&T swimming team's Senior Recognition Ceremony.
"Ever since we've met, there have been nothing but good times. She has been my swim buddy since Day One, right there next to me, pushing me when I had nothing left. Even outside of the pool, she is a true leader, always there when you needed to talk or when you needed a good laugh," Miles said. "Carolyn always had a witty remark for everything... Caroyln is one of the realest and most down-to-earth women I've ever met, and I have truly enjoyed being your teammate and your friend."
Then the microphone was passed to head coach Shawn Hendrix, who gave Pratt a gift from the team.
"When you have an athlete that comes in and no matter the dramatic things that have happened, can look at you and give you that Jamaican smile, it seems like everything is going to be all right," Hendrix said. "She brings a lot of laughter, a lot of humor, but the biggest thing that I've always loved about her is her honesty. If you don't want the truth, don't ask her, because she's going to tell the truth and tell it exactly the way it is. That is something don't ever lose. Because a true friend will always be truthful."
Miles followed the speeches by giving Pratt a custom designed t-shirt, which featured "all of the things that reminded the team of you," including special nicknames and sayings.
The moving Senior Night ceremony that took place on Friday followed the tradition that has been in place for several years. Once Hendrix tried to change the format, but her student-athletes liked the traditions already in place.
"We recognize our seniors, and have people talk about the seniors," Hendrix explained. "I go to Things Remembered and get each senior an engraved jewelry box. Ever senior has gotten one, since I've been here. It says 'Aggie Swimming' with their graduation year."
After the ceremony on Friday, Pratt swam an exhibition heat in the 200-yard freestyle relay to close out her Senior Night.
"It feels good," Pratt said following the team's Jan. 20 meet against Radford. Pratt clocked in at 31.17 in the 50-yard freestyle on Friday. The fastest time she's posted in the 50-yard freestyle this season is 30.94 seconds, which she hit on Oct. 21 against Campbell.
With just two regular season meets and the CCSA Championships left to compete in her collegiate career, Pratt is still looking to produce top numbers for the Aggies.
"I want to go faster in my 50 free, that's my main event, and increase in maybe the IM, because I know coach was looking for that," she said.
"It's been a long, hard running. Sometimes I didn't feel like getting out of bed, but thinking about letting down my teammates kind of pushed me, helped me to get here in the mornings [for the team's 6 a.m. practices]. I've learned a lot from swimming, like time management."
And the Aggies have definitely benefited from having Pratt on the team.
"She's a very caring person, she's very honest, and it's nice to have that truth. She is the swimmer I can go to and I can say, 'I feel like we're challenged in this area as a team, what can we do?' 'Or do you think I can put this person in a leadership role?' And she's very honest," Hendrix said.
Pratt has been an important part of the program since she joined as a sophomore as a walk-on.
"I came in with no swimming background," said Pratt, who is from the Bahamas. "I took a swim class my sophomore year, and the coach asked me to join the team."
Pratt, who had to miss the spring semester of her sophomore year to help support her ill grandfather, has always been committed to the team, Hendrix said, and has done whatever she was asked to help benefit the team.
"She's normally a freestyle swimmer, but when I ask her to do something different, she steps up and does it," Hendrix said. "At the [Highlander Invitational] meet, she swam the 200 medley, the 200 IM, and did very well. With her really being a freestyler, she stepped out of the norm."
In fact, her performance in the Highlander Invitational in the 200 IM is one of Pratt's proudest accomplishments.
Hendrix was also pleased to see Pratt compete in the 50 butterfly on Friday against Radford. She finished that event in 36.73 seconds.
"She also swam the 50 fly, which is not her event at all. The girls talked her into it, and she did it for fun, so it was pretty exciting to see her swim that," Hendrix said.
Pratt, who is an all-around athlete, said her role model is her highly athletic grandmother, the Hon. Cynthia Pratt, who served as the former Deputy Prime Minister of the Bahamas. She took that office in 2002, and served as the acting Prime Minister in 2005 when Prime Minister Perry Christie suffered a stroke. She was re-elected to her seat in Parliament in 2007. Her grandmother shared her knowledge and experience with A&T students last year, when she came as a guest speaker for Pratt's Topics of Anthropology class.
But Pratt has already gone into waters that her famous grandmother has not chartered.
"Swimming is the only sport she does not do," Pratt said.
As her swimming career comes to a close within the next month, Pratt said the biggest thing she will miss from collegiate athletics are her teammates.
"Just bonding with the girls. I bonded closely with all of them on the team," she said.