Feature by Celeste Cirillo-Penn
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minnesota, February 28. FOR most teens, a normal schedule consists of school, homework and spending time with friends. But for 18 year-old Rachel Bootsma, a typical day involves so much more. From weightlifting before school with a trainer to swimming for 2 ' to 3 hours a day to cycling indoors twice a week and still managing to find time to do her homework, it is evident that Bootsma's life is not that of a typical teen.
Given Bootsma's success in the pool, including numerous records, victories, an appointment to the U.S. National Team and qualification for the Olympic Trials, it may come as a surprise that Bootsma's start in swimming was not a smooth stroke to victory.
Bootsma, a Minnesota native who learned to swim in Florida at age three to be safe in the ocean, joined her first swim team when she was eight.
'I was terrible,' Bootsma said. 'I hated it. I hated being in the water. I hated racing. I was really slow. My parents didn't force me, but I had to be active in some way.'
Finally, around the age of 12, things began to change for Bootsma.
'The more I stuck with swimming, I realized I loved it,' Bootsma said.
However, even then, Bootsma only saw hints at the swimmer she could become.
'Thinking back, there are definitely moments,' Bootsma said.
Bootsma set her first Minnesota record at 10 years old, swam her first junior national meet at 12 and shocked many by swimming in the Olympic trials at only 14 years of age. But if there is one event that changed everything, it was winning her first junior national championships in 2008 in the 100m backstroke when she was 14 years old.
'That's when I decided I pretty much was going to dedicate my life to swimming,' Bootsma said. 'I think every kid wants to go to the Olympics, but I never thought it was possible to have dreams like that, and that meet changed it.'
From there everything changed. Bootsma began to train harder and set more goals.
'When I was eight, I would just show up and swim,' Bootsma said. 'Over the years my coach [Kate Lundsten] has taught me to swim with a purpose and a focus and have a goal every day.'
After that, Lundsten saw a big difference.
'When she decided in her mind swimming was it, she started getting faster, better and working harder,' Lundsten said. 'She puts a goal in her mind and she goes for it. When you put talent with desires and goals, you have a better swimmer.'
From kick-based workouts to stressing the importance of the team in swimming, Lundsten has had a huge impact on Bootsma.
'She is an incredible coach, and pretty much like family to me,' Bootsma said. 'I wouldn't be swimming today without her. She has taught me to love the sport and to be confident in who I am' to be proud of myself and just be thankful.'
The two have developed a strong relationship.
'I've known her since she was 10,' Lundsten said. 'I know what she's like. She knows what I'm like. We get along very well.'
In her nearly eight years swimming under Lundsten at Aquajets Swim Club, Bootsma has flourished.
On Nov. 20, 2010, Bootsma broke the National High School Record in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 51.53.
'I wasn't really expecting it,' Bootsma said. 'I wasn't tapered or rested or anything for that meet. I was having fun and didn't really have any pressure. I was ecstatic.'
Later in Oct. 2011, Bootsma was chosen to swim at the Pan American Games as a member of the US National Team.
'That was a really exciting time for me,' Bootsma admitted. 'I was really just going for the experience. Qualifying for finals was my only goal.'
Bootsma surpassed expectations, winning gold in both the 100m back, her best event, and the 400m medley relay.
'Winning was an incredible experience, and having the national anthem played for me is really something I'll never forget,' Bootsma said.
Despite her success at the Pan American Games, Bootsma's most memorable race was at the 2011 NCSA Junior Nationals. In the 100 yard backstroke, Bootsma went 50.76, a time that not only secured her the gold, but also would have won the event at the NCAA Championships that year.
'That time was unreal for me,' Bootsma said. 'I just remember looking up at the clock and just kind of being in shock and being so proud of what I accomplished.'
SwimmingWorld.TV Video of Bootsma's 50.76
While Bootsma credits a lot of her success to hard work and dedication, there is one thing she stresses even more than that.
'For me, it's really just having fun. When I get nervous, I don't swim well,' Bootsma said. 'At the Pan Ams and when I set the National High School record and when I went 50.76, I was having fun.'
To relax from swimming, Bootsma loves to cook, bake and hang out with friends. The initially quiet Bootsma also lightens the mood with her sense of humor.
'She's very funny,' Lundsten said. 'She has a quick sense of humor, be it texting or speaking. She doesn't always mean to be funny, but she is.'
However, at times having fun and remaining stress free is not easy. When Bootsma was 16, she injured her wrist. The injury took a toll on her.
'It's been a long road dealing with it, swimming my strokes differently, lifting differently getting out of the pool differently,' Bootsma said. 'I wasn't training as hard. I had worse swims along the way. Mentally overcoming that was a challenge.'
Bootsma, luckily, has a great support system in her sister Katie. Katie, just 1 ' years older, started swimming with Bootsma.
'She's my best friend,' Bootsma said. 'We were always together, always at the pool together. We were at school together. She is the most supportive sister in the world.'
Similarly, Bootsma is extremely close to her parents. Bootsma, who committed to swim at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that being away from her parents and family will provide the biggest challenge in transitioning to college swimming. However, she believes that the school is the perfect place for her and the coaches Teri McKeever and Kristen Cunnane will be valuable in that transition.
'I think that Teri and Kristen will help me with that,' Bootsma said. 'They weren't just recruiting me as a swimmer. They were recruiting me as a person.'
The University of California, Berkeley, also has something to offer Bootsma that many schools do not.
'My parents always taught me that a woman can do anything a man can,' Bootsma said. 'I decided that I wanted to swim for a female and they have two female coaches.'
Cal also gives Bootsma a chance to work on achieving another goal, working in the medical field with elite athletes to help them achieve their goals.
'I would love to be an athletic trainer or something in the medical field,' Bootsma said. 'I want to'make a difference and impact people's lives the way that other people can't.'
However, college seems like a long way away for Bootsma who has a busy summer ahead of her. Bootsma has qualified to swim the 50, 100, and 200 free, the 100 and 200 fly, the 100 back and the 200 IM at the Olympic Trials this summer. She has not decided what events she will swim yet, with the exception of the 100 back, her most dominant event.
'I think I have a love-hate relationship with the 100 back,' Bootsma said jokingly. 'It's my best event, but I feel more pressure in it. I do love racing it, but'I'm nervous for it.'
Bootsma hopes her previous experience at the Olympic Trials will help her against tough competition, including Natalie Coughlin and Missy Franklin. However, Bootsma maintains that having fun is the most important thing.
'My number one goal is to continue to love the sport going into the summer,' Bootsma said. 'I just want to swim fast and see what happens.'
No matter what happens this summer, Bootsma has reaped many benefits from swimming.
'It helped me become the person I am today: be motivated, set goals, rely on myself, rely on other people but not depend on them,' Bootsma said of swimming. 'It gives me a place where I can be completely comfortable and be myself.'