Kirsten Nitz had never thought about swimming in the Olympics — until now.
The swimmer, who recently graduated from Western Hills High School, said it wasn’t until she qualified for the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., that the dream became imaginable.
Nitz qualified in March at the Speedo Southeastern Sectional Swimming Championships in Greensboro, N.C., where she finished second in the 100 butterfly in a time of 1 minute, 1.31 seconds. She was fifth in the 100 back in 1:03.88. She was under the Olympic Trial cut time by 6/10ths of a second in the butterfly and 1/10th of a second in the backstroke.
“I didn’t think this was a serious possibility, but now it is much more real,” Nitz said. “It is such an awesome blessing. I’m still kind of amazed that I’m really doing this.”
Since winning the high school state meet’s 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard butterfly in February, Nitz hasn’t stopped training in preparation for the Trials.
“Right after March when I qualified, we started training for this,” she said. “We started taper about three weeks ago,” which is where swimmers lessen their workouts in preparation for a large event.
“But we’ve been building the whole time and really hitting the hammer down,” Nitz said. “It has been hard. We’ve been doing a lot of practice on endurance for the butterfly so I can finish that 100, when you’re almost to the wall, but not quite there yet. Your arms, legs and body are just dying. Your core is tired… I’ve worked really hard. The hours aren’t as many as other teams practice, it is just more quality over quantity.”
With all of her training, Nitz said what she wasn’t prepared for was the outpour of support for the community.
The 18 year old said she has received phone calls, letters and emails from friends, family and even people she doesn’t know, wishing her luck this week.
Swimmers from Wheaton College, an NCAA Div. III school in Wheaton, Ill., where Nitz plans to swim in the fall, sent cards with well wishes bound in a book.
“They’re praying for me,” she said. “I don’t even know them and they’re supporting me already.”
Nitz said she also feels support from her coach, Marvin Watson, of Thoroughbred Nautical Team Swimming. The Frankfort native started swimming on Watson’s team when she was eight years old, which marks almost 10 years the pair have been working together.
“I get to leave it all up to my coach,” Nitz said, “I get to practice, do what he tells me to and just leave it up to him. He knows what he is doing. I trust him completely.”
Watson said he is trying to be “cautiously optimistic” about how his swimmer is performing.
“I don’t want to be overly excited, but I think she will compete really well over the next few days,” he said. “She is ready.”
The coach said it is “very possible” in the next four years, Nitz will be back again at the Olympic Trials.
“She is very capable of being back four years later, moving further into the finals and making the Olympic team,” Watson said.
With such high expectations, Nitz said the nerves haven’t hit her just yet.
“I know God is in control of everything,” she said. “What He wants to happen will happen. I just tell myself I’ve done the work. Being too nervous isn’t going to help anything.
“I’m ranked 67th or something in the nation. I don’t have that much pressure on me. I’m doing it for the fun, the experience and the opportunity.”
And the thought of swimming in the same pool as Michael Phelps?
“It is really cool,” Nitz said smiling, “You kind of realize that, ‘Oh I have done well,’ or ‘Oh, I can be here.’ Before you think about Michael Phelps, you have to think that you’re swimming in a meet with them. It gives you confidence that you’re one of them. I’m one of them —Almost.”
Nitz left Friday for Omaha, Neb., and plans to practice in the pool today. Her first event, the Women’s 100-meter butterfly, is tomorrow, with preliminaries beginning at 11 a.m. EST. She will also compete on Tuesday, June 26 in the Women’s 100-meter backstroke.
The top 16 overall fastest times move on to the semifinals later in the day, then the top eight times from semis move to the finals and the top two finishers go to London.
For more information and to watch Nitz compete, visit www.usaswimming.org.