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Western Alamance alum Henderson embraces U.S. trials, will head to Olympics as interested spectator

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

For Noah Henderson, participating in the U.S. Olympic trials marked a special time in his swimming career that has been filled with notable accomplishments.

He took part in the trials in a football stadium in front of record crowds, set a personal-best time in one event, and made a point to soak it all in.

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He didn’t qualify for the U.S. team, but the Western Alamance alum is going to Paris for the Summer Games anyway.

Henderson, a recent North Carolina State graduate with a long list of Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA achievements, will have a vested interest in the results in the Olympic pool. His long-time girlfriend will be competing for the U.S. team.

“The dream is always to make the Olympic team,” Henderson said. “(At the trials) wasn’t really exactly how I wanted it. It wasn’t exactly how I had hoped to go out. But I’ll be going to the Olympics. I’ll be there to view that one.”

That’s because N.C. State’s Katharine Berkoff is a U.S. Olympic qualifier in the 100-yard backstroke. Henderson will be leaving later this month for France to join Berkoff’s family as part of her cheering section.

Katharine Berkoff prepares for a race in the U.S. Olympic trials.
Noah Henderson, left, will be going to Paris to support his girlfriend, Katharine Berkoff, in the Olympics.

It will be a different vantage point for Henderson, who has excelled in the pool for years. Qualifying for the Olympics might have been a long shot as only the two top advance, but he gave a solid performance in last month’s U.S. trials in Indianapolis.

The competition was held at Lucas Oil Stadium, where a pool was built on the floor of the venue. There was record-setting attendance for the trials.

“It was easily the most incredible meet I’ve ever been a part of,” Henderson said. “To see a football stadium of people come to see swimming was incredible.”

Henderson qualified for the U.S. trials last summer in three events – 50-meter freestyle, 100 freestyle, and 100 butterfly. He said he considered the 50 freestyle his best event.

In the 50 freestyle trial heats, he placed 27th in 22.50 seconds (failing to match his entry seed time of 22.26 seconds). The time needed for a top 16 spot and a position in the semifinals was 22.28 seconds.

Henderson was 17th in the 100 butterfly heats in a personal-best 52.69 seconds, missing the semifinals by one spot (by 0.13 seconds). He was the first alternate for the semifinals, but that spot didn’t open up.

“That was a really good race for me,” he said.

In the 100 freestyle heats, Henderson was 52nd in a time of 50.22 seconds (with a seed time of 49.80 seconds).

“I kind of knew where my times stacked up,” he said. “I took this summer as a victory lap. I’m glad I stuck it out for one more summer.”


So what’s next?

This phase of Henderson’s swimming career has closed.

“It may have been my last one ever,” he said. “This is the end of this chapter.”

While he’s uncertain if he’ll resume competitive endeavors in the pool, he certainly hasn’t ruled it out.

“It’s very possible that I stick in the sport of swimming,” he said. “I think it’s realistic that I could.”

Berkoff will be aiming for another shot in 2028, so Henderson might join that pursuit.

In the meantime, he’s looking for a job in mechanical engineering after graduating from N.C. State.

Henderson, 23, has dedicated much of his life to swimming. In some ways, he’s drained because of the emotional toll it has taken.

“It has been a very eventful past few months,” he said.

Much of that began in the winter as his final college season wound down. His time with the Wolfpack included becoming an individual NCAA All-American plus part of team relay records and a pool record.

Collegiate swimming had become a major part of his identity.

“There was a lot of pressure on me in the NCAA championships in March,” he said. “It took a pretty heavy toll on me mentally and emotionally. This team and swimming have been my life for the last five years. It ended up being a very stressful experience for me.”

The anxiety might be different as a spectator later this month.’

Berkoff, who’s from Missoula, Montana, placed second in the U.S. trials. She’s a five-time ACC champion in the 100 backstroke. Her father, Dave Berkoff, represented the United States in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, capturing four total medals including a pair of golds in the medley relay.

So Henderson, who’s the son of Craig and Stephanie Henderson of Gibsonville, has been mixing it up with good swimming company the past few years, making several visits to Montana along the way. He and Katharine Berkoff have been together for five years.

“She’s my ticket to the Olympics,” he said.

During the past week, members of the U.S. swimming team have been training at Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary. Henderson is familiar with that venue because he won multiple individual state championships and set state high school records there.

Then the U.S. team heads to Croatia for more pre-Olympic training. Swimming competition in Paris runs from July 27-August 4.

Photos courtesy of N.C. State Athletics

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