GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The Triad has produced some of the top talents in the world of swimming, including Winston-Salem native and Olympic gold medalist Kathleen Baker. 

Now, there’s a new face breaking records every time she competes. 

“Reina is a household name in Greensboro,” swim coach Katie McNerney said.

Any time Reina Liu jumps in a pool, it’s all eyes on her. 

She wrapped up the past season as the number one ranked 12-year-old in the country, including ranking first in four events: 50 back, 100 back, 200 back and 100 IM. She also ranked third in three more: 50 fly, 200 fly and 200 IM. 

“It’s not just about the talent. It’s about the drive,” Coach McNerney said. “It’s about knowing who you are as an athlete, and I think even at 12 years old, she’s very self-aware.”

Before Liu was breaking 17 team records a year, she was just a young girl in swim lessons. She quickly learned the pool was where she was happiest. 

“I was pretty good then, but I wasn’t really aware of it, and I just thought it was fun to swim and go fast and have fun,” she said.

From pretty good to unbelievably great, Liu now commands every meet she enters. In her age group state meet, she was the first-place finisher in all eight of her individual events and broke three state records with the following times: 

  • 50 back — 25.80 seconds (formally held by Claire Curzan – an American record holder)
  • 100 back — 55.55 seconds (formally held by Claire Curzan – an American record holder)
  • 200 back — 201.13 seconds (formally held by Kathleen Baker – Olympic gold medalist)

“It’s still very shocking,” Liu said. “It just never gets old because I usually never expect that to happen. It’s always there in my dreams and hopes, but I never expect myself to break one.”

“Setting these records is that stepping stone in order to ensure that we get her to that next step,” Coach McNerney said. “Eventually, for her, she wants the Olympic title.”

The goal of an Olympic title is a realistic one, given the names that held records she’s now breaking, like Clair Curzan and Kathleen Baker. Many are already comparing Liu to the former Olympians.

“It’s really shocking because I’m still pretty young, and they’re my role models,” she said. “I hope that I can follow in their footsteps and someday maybe make it to the Olympics and be just as great as they are now.”

“I think that she…100 percent, has the ability and the potential to take it all the way,” Coach McNerney said. “I don’t say that lightly because you know you always get the kid that’s like ‘I want to swim at the Olympics.’ With the way that she is showing her trajectory, there is no reason why she can’t do it.”

Now 13 years old, Liu is able to compete nationally. Her first national meet is the YMCA short course national championship in Greensboro. With a bigger stage comes bigger goals, but the passion remains the same.

“I don’t think it ever does stop because I want to keep on swimming all the way through college and even when I get old and stuff,” she said.

Until then, Lui is paving the way for what can be done with many eyes, both young and old, watching her every lap. 

“I think that she is going to be a huge inspiration for a lot of young girls,” Coach McNerney said. “Moving forward, who want to accomplish what she’s accomplishing, and she’s setting a really good stage for that.”

A stage that’s only going to grow. But until the future, Liu is taking every goal, every win and every record one stroke at a time. 

“Iit’s mind-boggling sometimes to think that a 12-year-old can do what she did,” Coach McNerney said.

Lui is competing in the YMCA short course national championship in Greensboro which runs through April 7.