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Danielle Hulick Takes a Unique Path to Success

By Joe Meginnes

Swimmer Danielle Hulick has accomplished a great deal in her first three years at Notre Dame. She is a six-time BIG EAST champion and was a member of the 200 freestyle relay team that set a BIG EAST Championship record in 2002. She is a Notre Dame recordholder in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays, as well as the 100 backstroke, and last year she qualified for three events at the 2003 NCAA Championships.

This season, Hulick is poised to add more exploits to her already impressive resume. As she prepares for the 2004 BIG EAST Championships set for Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 21-23, in Long Island, N.Y., and another run for the NCAAs, it is difficult conceive of her being in any other position. Yet, after last season she considered leaving the team and ending a career that got its start by pure chance.

Hulick was 11 years old when a soccer-related infection in her foot prevented her from wearing shoes and socks for an extended period of time and forced her to find an alternative summer sport.

“My brother was a lifeguard and I had taken swimming lessons,” Hulick recalls. “I was always a natural in the water and started swimming that summer.”

Hulick, though limited by the lack of competitive swimming clubs in her native Galesburg, Ill., located just outside of Chicago, improved steadily throughout her prep career. She was a four-year letterwinner, most valuable player and All-American at Galesburg High School, setting school records in 10 different events. She placed in the top three at the state meet on six different occasions and was a three-time YMCA state champion in the 50 and 100 freestyle.

Early in her career, Hulick’s efforts were concentrated on trying to earn a college scholarship. By her senior season in high school, after much success, Hulick had plenty of options.

“I knew that I was good enough to go pretty much anywhere,” Hulick said.

But in her mind there was only one option for the swimming standout.

“I always wanted to go to Notre Dame,” Hulick said. “I told my advisor in seventh grade that I was going to go to Notre Dame. My older brother had a big influence on me, and he always said that Notre Dame was the best school.

“Notre Dame was really the only place I applied, and once I heard that everything was going to work out there, I didn’t bother talking to any other schools.”

Upon arriving at Notre Dame, Hulick did not find immediate stardom. Early in her collegiate career she had difficulty living up to the expectations she set for herself even though she had won three BIG EAST titles and had set the conference record in the 200 free relay. She also had placed third in the BIG EAST meet in both the 50 and 100 freestyle as a sophomore.

“My first two years here, I was under a lot of pressure and didn’t swim very fast,” she says.

Last season, Hulick changed her perspective and became the team’s most improved swimmer. Concerning herself only with swimming up to her ability, she garnered numerous honors including winning the 50 freestyle at the conference meet and qualifying for the 2003 NCAA Championships in the 50 freestyle and the 100 and 200 backstrokes. At the NCAA meet, Hulick placed 24th in the 100 back and 29th in the 200 back, while finishing 40th in the 50 freestyle. She also set the Notre Dame record in the 100 backstroke with a time of 54.83.

Undoubtedly, her upbringing and competitive drive played an integral part in her success.

“My dad was a big role model in sports. He had some great insight and really inspired me,” Hulick said.

“In high school, he told me that every time you’re in the pool, you should swim all-out. I feel that it’s being very respectful to people to always give 100 percent. It just shows that whoever you’re racing or with, you’re giving respect to them, to yourself and to your talent.”

Surprisingly, after her brilliant junior year where she was at the pinnacle of her career, Hulick considered walking away from her year-round swimming commitment in order to explore the many other opportunities available on campus.

“I felt like Notre Dame offered a variety of things that, as athletes, and especially as swimmers, we do not get to experience such as going abroad, attending special lectures, spending time with friends on road trips and such. There were a lot of things that I missed out on, and it was starting to get to me.

“I’ve always loved other sports and swimming has never been my one love. I was starting to tire of swimming, and getting older, a lot of my priorities have changed.”

After much soul searching, Hulick chose to remain on the team, and she could not be happier with her decision. She cites her relationship with her teammates as the biggest factor in her decision to keep swimming.

“I mentioned a lot of things that I miss because of swimming, but it also adds a lot to my life. I get to meet a lot of people, and there is a great deal of pride being a Notre Dame athlete and being good at what I do. I’m very glad I came back.”

Although her focus is on the BIG EAST and NCAA meet the next six weeks, she still cannot help but to think about what the future holds for her. A member of the BIG EAST Academic All-Star team the past two seasons, Hulick will graduate in May from the College of Arts and Letters with a degree in anthropology. She is also awaiting decisions from three graduate schools, where she hopes to study kinesiology or exercise science.

“At this point I’d really like to be a strength and conditioning trainer. I definitely want to work with people, and I’ve always been fascinated with the human body.”