Swimmers who specialize in the backstroke get to know the ceilings of pools about as well as they know their own face in a mirror.
Georgia ‚Äôs Kristen Shickora has spent so much time with her eyes toward the sky that she can even find work for the Ramsey Center maintenance crew.
‚ÄúThe first thing I do when I walk into a pool is look at the ceiling,‚Äù Shickora said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs how I remember pools. We have 18 tiles and 42 lights in the ceiling. I literally stare at the ceiling for two hours almost every day. I can tell you right now that the 12th light is out on the left side of the pool. I just saw that (Thursday). We got new banners at the pool the other day, and I noticed them the very first thing. We‚Äôve got people who still don‚Äôt know they‚Äôre up there.‚Äù
Shickora, a senior from Tamaqua, Penn., has already taken some of the worry and anxiety away from the upcoming spring semester. She swam one of the best meets in her life in the Georgia Fall Invitational earlier this month to lock down an automatic qualifying time for the NCAA National Championships in March.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm in; I‚Äôve booked my ticket,‚Äù Shickora said. ‚ÄúIt feels good to get it out of the way. Now we can focus on training. We don‚Äôt have to focus on what the other girls are swimming around the country and whether they‚Äôre beating us. We can just concentrate on our own training and getting faster. It‚Äôs a big relief to know you‚Äôre in. It really takes a lot of the pressure off.‚Äù
Shickora is an automatic NCAA qualifier in the women‚Äôs 100-yard backstroke with a time of 52.27 seconds. She is also a provisional qualifier in the 200 backstroke, the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly. The NCAAs will be held March 15-17 at Auburn. Shickora‚Äôs qualifying effort came as a shock to her.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt what happened at the invite; it was probably one of the best meets I‚Äôve ever had in my life,‚Äù Shickora said. ‚ÄúIn every race, I ran my best time. It was a miracle meet. You always want to swim fast. You‚Äôre not going to complain about being too fast. I‚Äôm happy it‚Äôs this way instead of wishing I was faster right now. The goal is obviously to get faster, so if I have to push myself and challenge myself to get faster than this, that‚Äôs a good thing.‚Äù
Georgia now has seven automatic individual NCAA qualifiers: Wendy Trott in the 500 and 1,650 freestyle, Malanie Margalis in the 200 IM and 200 breastroke, Megan Romano in the 100 frestyle, Amber McDermott in the 500 freestyle and Shickora. Georgia also has qualified two relay teams and the men have qualified Martin Grodski in the 1,650 freestyle.
Shickora came to Georgia as a 100 backstroke specialist but has expanded her production to include the 200 backstroke, the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm just thrilled to see her step up like that,‚Äù Georgia coach Jack Bauerle said. ‚ÄúTo use the vernacular, she just gets it. She has always been really good in the 100 back. What I‚Äôm really happy with is she‚Äôs helping us in other ways, too. Her first event has always been really good. Now her second and third and even fourth events are pretty good, too. She can help us get a point or two in a lot of different ways, and when you‚Äôre in a big meet like SECs or NCAAs, those can make the difference.
‚ÄúIf everybody just does what they‚Äôre supposed to do, that‚Äôs only going to get you so far. But if you‚Äôve got some people like Shick who go above and beyond and do more than they‚Äôre supposed to do, that‚Äôs how you win championships.‚Äù
Shickora almost fell into the butterfly and individual medley by accident. She and Bauerle started looking for a way to broaden Shickora‚Äôs contributions when a spot opened during her sophomore season and she stepped in.
‚ÄúWe really didn‚Äôt have a flier, and I really didn‚Äôt have a third event my sophomore year,‚Äù Shickora said. ‚ÄúThey kind of threw me into one of the flies or maybe it was an IM and I guess I did pretty well. So it just kind of happened. I‚Äôm always willing to do whatever it takes for the team. If that means I go get one point in a dual meet, I‚Äôll do it.‚Äù
Although swimming the butterfly and the individual medley takes some of Shickora‚Äôs training time away from the backstroke. But it also adds variety to workouts and keeps swimmers from obsessing over one event.
‚ÄúShe‚Äôs always been strong, and that‚Äôs what you need in a backstroker,‚Äù Bauerle said. ‚ÄúButterfly and IM did not come naturally to her where the backstroke did. What happens when people do well in another couple of events, it takes the pressure off of what they do well and that makes them a better swimmer in the long run. When they get too myopic, their improvement stalls.‚Äù