MIDWEST CITY — When Anka Lukannek first swam at the Mid-Del swimming practice, the boys on the teams were impressed, but even worried she could beat them.
The foreign exchange student from Quakenbruck, Germany, is fast, and when that quickly became apparent to the rest of her Carl Albert teammates, they started trying to match or better her.
“It did push me, it did, having a girl that was faster than me,” Carl Albert junior Tim Hyland said.
While the boys team has improved, the Carl Albert girls team has gone from a team that failed to qualify a relay team or individual for the state tournament last season to all three relay teams qualifying; Lukannek has qualified individually in nearly every event.
Lukannek isn't exactly the team's savior, but she is its sunshine.
“I think I pushed them because we knew we could qualify for state,” she said. “Maybe I'm giving some of the people positive attitude, I don't know. I hope.”
She is best in the freestyle and has yet to decide what she will swim in at state, but is leaning toward the 50 and 100 freestyles.
But the state tournament comes later in her American journey.
Lukannek had always loved English. Then her cousin studied abroad in Idaho, talking nonstop the excitement that can be found in the United States.
That's when Lukannek decided she wanted to come to America, whereas a 16-year-old senior she has learned American football, attended Thunder games (she proudly owns a Kevin Durant jersey) and will experience a Sadie Hawkins Dance this weekend ahead of her only prom.
The other highlight came when she was able to represent the swim team in Carl Albert's homecoming parade when the team captain was unable to attend.
“It was so much fun,” Lukannek said. “Like, all the little kids waiting for the candy just waving at us; it was fun.”
Pat and Suzi Byrne may be the perfect host family for her.
Pat is a captain on the Oklahoma City Police force. Suzi retired in December from an aviation company. They have no kids remaining at home and no grandchildren.
“We thought this was a way to be involved kids' lives,” Suzi said. “We miss that. We miss that from our son; we had a lot of kids at our house a lot when he was growing up. This is just a way of filling our time.
“It's fun with the other nationalities, learning about their country and sharing Oklahoma with them.”
The Byrnes have had six foreign exchange students live with them, including Lukannek and Mara Ajo Bartolome, of Spain, currently.
But Lukannek is the first athlete. Shawn Byrne was a golfer in high school with Pat and Suzi following across the state. Now, they are happy to get involved with athletics again.
“I'm just amazed with her skills,” Suzi Byrne said. “It's really rewarding to go watch her in the meets, to see her excel. She's even beating her times that she had when she was in Germany and that's exciting. Every meet she seems to be improving.”
That's where practices come in.
Lukannek uses her motivation against the boys as a way to improve.
“I try to keep up with them in practice,” she said. “It's helping me, too.”
And it's helping the team.
“We're able to bring an actual team to state this year,” Mid-Del swimming coach Jennay Buckmaster said. “I think having her has pushed all of the girls and now they're going to state, and I think they're going to be a good contender at state because Anka is here and all of the other girls have kind of stepped up, too.”