Mustang junior set to compete for Class 6A state championship on Friday in Edmond
Brenda Nguyen stood proud under the red, dragon-like head of the lion dance costume she helped create to celebrate Chinese New Year.
Huge, cartoonish white eyes and a mouth created in order to flap open and shut with a slot inside for the occupant to see. Long, red fur serving as the mane and beard with floppy red ears to finish off the 15-pound mask.
Nguyen, a Mustang High School junior and now three-time Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association state swim meet qualifier, controlled the front as the two-person team performed different routines and dances, trying to act is if they were moving like the king of the jungle.
“It helps bring people luck and prosperity,” said Nguyen, who has looked forward to being a part of the performance since she was younger. Now, she’s able to dance in front of church crowds as well as folks in Oklahoma City’s Asian District.
“I love to interact with the crowd and to see the smiles on their faces because of the dance and the costume,” she said. “All the babies like to touch the lion’s head.”
In Chinese and Vietnamese culture, the lion symbolizes power, wisdom, and superiority. The lion dance is performed to bring good fortune and chase away evil spirits.
Nguyen shows those same characteristics in the pool and in the classroom, representing MHS as one of the swim team’s undoubted leaders.
She will race in the 50-yard freestyle today in the Class 6A state finals, looking to carve out another win to cap off an already successful junior season.
“I’ve definitely been focusing in more around this time of year,” Nguyen said. “We’re trying to be at our strongest and trying to peak now.
“I have a lot of great teammates and we’re trying to push each other to be our best. The biggest motivation individually is trying to get first and breaking 23 or 24 seconds.”
Nguyen broke her own school record in the 50-free with a time of :25.38 at the 2023 OSSAA regional meet in Edmond – good for second place. She broke it again on Thursday in the state prelims.
“The term I’ve used most for her is amazingly consistent,” Mustang coach Tony Evans said. “Obviously she’s a hard worker or she wouldn’t be where she is, but you almost take for granted how consistent she is.
“She is pretty quiet until you get to know her and then you’ll see she likes to be silly and have fun. But she understands it’s not just fun and games. Overall, she’s just a good kid.”
Nguyen wants to swim at the next level and understands the work and dedication needed to do so.
Three times a week, her and teammate Jacee Jimeson travel to a pool in Oklahoma City before school and swim laps. It’s a big reason why the two are in the running for a state title.
“A lot of kids don’t know that,” Evans said. “You look at the girls winning events and they’re the ones putting in the work when nobody else is. They’re definitely preparing to be college swimmers.”
Nguyen is the youngest of four children and helps her mother with cooking and cleaning at home. It’s just the two of them as her older siblings have all moved away after school.
“She is a very strong woman,” Nguyen said of her mom. “She is very passionate and has a strong work ethic, which I think I get from her. She is very religious, and we always go to church together. I really inspire to be just like her.”
Volunteering and participating in student-led organizations has become a passion of Nguyen’s. She also enjoys drawing and creating things such as the newsletter for the key club. Her favorite subject is English and there is no doubt as to her favorite teacher.
“It’s definitely coach Evans,” she said. “Even though I hated geometry, he helped me get through it.”
Nguyen has also enjoyed growing up in Mustang. She says the town isn’t too big, so she feels very comfortable living here.
“There is always something going on,” she said. “Our family has always loved the community.”
Mustang’s swim team keeps its records displayed on the second level of the school’s Wellness Center on campus. Nguyen’s name has been hung four times – in the 50-free, 100-free, 200-medley relay, and 400-freestyle relay.
Although she keeps breaking her records in the 50 and 100, she says the 400-freestyle mark is the one that sticks out the most.
“That’s my favorite moment so far,” she said. “It was my freshman season and the second day of state. It was me, another freshman, and two seniors that pulled it off. It’s going to be a long time before it’s broken again.”
Practice is also high on Nguyen’s list. It’s one of her favorite places to be outside of actual competition in meets. She enjoys the comradery and the motivation she gets from her coaches and teammates.
“We usually don’t get to talk as much, but we still come together and support each other. If there is something we can’t figure out or a problem, the captains and coaches are always there to bring us together and help us work it out.”
The pool has become a place where Nguyen not only competes, but where she goes to get away, clear her mind, and learn. There are many lessons she has taken away from the sport and being around her teammates and friends.
“One thing I’ve learned is that even when times are hard, we can persevere through it,” she said.
“Whether it’s COVID, the bus breaking down, or even ice storms, we push through and keep swimming.”