Amy Balcerzak: At 22, America’s Newest Swim Star

By Doug Mariboe

AMY BALCERZAK (Sharon, Pa.), a former All-American swimmer and valedictorian at The Peddie School, capped off three months of FINA World Cup Short Course competitions by capturing first place points and prize money in the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke events and the 200m individual medley. In addition, she took home the second place award in the 50-meter breast, and finished third overall in the 100m individual medley.

The 10-venue World Cup short-course (25-meter pool) series are held in three zones, the Americas, Asia/Oceania, and Europe. To be eligible for prize money, a swimmer must enter at least one meet per zone. Final standings are based on time and order of finish in each event. First place earns $4,000, second place $2,000, and third place $1,000.

On November 15, 2000, Balcerzak broke the American short course record in the 50-meter breast at the World Cup meet in College Park, Md. with a winning time of 31.19. She added two more victories to her total, touching first in the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke events. She also earned a silver medal in the 200-meter individual medley and a bronze in the 100-meter individual medley.

"I’m amazed at how exciting this meet was. The atmosphere was great," said Balcerzak. "It was a wonderful opportunity to swim against quality competition from around the world."

In the following rounds in Shanghai, Melbourne, and Stockholm, she brought home six silver medals from the 50 and 100-meter breaststroke races and won a gold in the 100-meter individual medley.

The competition in China was a showcase event that was nationally televised. Despite appallingly poor conditions, she recorded two silver medals in the 50 and 100-meter breaststroke events against two World Cup record holders. With only three days rest, the Melbourne meet commenced on December 5, 2000. She concluded her arduous World Cup schedule in Stockholm on January 25, 2001.

With good fortune on Balcerzak’s side, Swiss Swimming Club-Uster invited her to their two-day International competition that concluded on January 28, 2001. She dominated the field in winning the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke events in meet-record performances and fetched the silver medal in the 200m individual medley.

Balcerzak,22, graduated this past June from Northwestern University with a degree in Biological Sciences and a cumulative GPA of 3.78. Her accomplishments in both the classroom and the swimming pool have been headlined at the national level. For the fourth consecutive year, the College Coaches Association of America selected her to their Academic All-American team to go along with the coveted GTE/College Sports Information Directors Organization of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-American First Team in the women’s fall/winter at-large category.

Overall, Balcerzak is a 20-time All-American, six-time Big Ten Champion, and holds the school’s marks in the 100 and 200-yard breaststroke and 200 individual medley. She was also a member of record-setting NWU teams in both the 200 and 400-yard medley relays.

She plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary School of Medicine in the fall. Penn agreed to a one-year deferment to accommodate her rigorous travel and training regiment. Last August she was in the hunt for an Olympic berth in the 100-meter breaststroke, but finished fourth in the finals. With the deferral intact, she decided to take another tour of international swimming.

In July 2000 she received an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship to be used towards her graduate school program. To supplement the prestigious $5,000 NCAA scholarship, Penn awarded her two special grants in recognition of her meritorious career at Northwestern.

The final chapter of the story gets even better. Her longtime boyfriend, Chris Field, cleverly staged a momentous celebration last March at the women’s NCAA Swimming Championships in Indianapolis. In her final event as a Wildcat, she finished sixth in the 200-meter breaststroke. She was ushered briskly to the media room where Field was waiting with ring in hand. He knelt on one knee and proposed in front of the flashing cameras. Needless to say, Balcerzak said yes. With great pride she received yet another All-American award and, of course, with tears of joy… a ring. The wedding is planned for May 5, 2001.

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