March 22, 2014
By Tayler Turner ’14
In Christen McDonough’s first three years on the University of Notre Dame women’s swimming team, she had never made it to the NCAA Championships. Not going to collegiate swimming’s final meet of the year wasn’t from a lack of effort, but the simple fact that the difference in swimmers that make it to NCAAs and the ones that don’t can be determined in times that are well under a second, or the time it took you to read that last part of the this sentence.
“Making it to the NCAAs was always a goal that was in the back of my mind but never something I could see myself really achieving,” said McDonough.
With this in mind, McDonough went into this year’s ACC Championships thinking that it would be her last meet as a collegiate swimmer. The Charlotte, N.C., native left everything in the pool and worked as hard as she could to make sure she ended her swimming career on a positive note.
The results of this effort and passion were amazing as McDonough ended up swimming one of her best times (1:00.51) of her career in the 100-yard breaststroke.
“I went in to conference thinking it would be my last meet and I gave it my all,” recalls McDonough “I ended up improving my time in conference so I went up in the rankings a little bit.”
Although she moved up in the rankings in the 100 breast, the senior was still uncertain as to whether she would make the cut for NCAAs. In the past years, they have taken anywhere from 32 to 38 swimmers and McDonough found herself right in the middle, seated 35th.
“They take a certain number of people to the NCAAs and I was basically on the bubble,” explains the swimmer. “I didn’t know how many people they would end up taking.”
From that point on, she basically had to play the waiting game until they announced the final numbers for the NCAAs. The uncertainty surrounding the event made it that much more exciting when the senior found out that she was invited to NCAAs the first time in her college career. Finally, after four years of hard work, the swimmer had accomplished her goal of making it to collegiate swimming’s biggest meet.
“It was really cool because I never thought I would make it to NCAAs in college,” said McDonough. “And to have it be sort of a surprise that I made it this year and to have it be my last meet ever makes it a really fun way to go out. I’m so excited to be able to travel with my team, compete and see what the meet is all about.”
With her eyes on both breaststroke events, McDonough left for Minnesota on Tuesday with the other qualifiers on her team so the group of eight would have time to get adjusted to the pool and practice before the meet started on Thursday.
In addition to practicing, the team has also found time for fun while in Minnesota. The women all went to get their nails done as a team-bonding event before the races began. For McDonough, team bonding activities like this and the personal closeness of the team is extremely important and she attributes it as one of the main reasons she was able to be successful during her senior season.
“It was a really good year for everyone on the team and it made me excited to be part of it,” explained McDonough. “I stayed here this past summer to train with the team and had a great experience. Everyone on the team is so close and it made it so much more enjoyable than usual to go to practice and train.”
In addition to the closeness of the team, McDonough also admits that senior nostalgia played a huge role in her success this year.
“I just really loved swimming this year,” the senior recalls. “Maybe because it was my last season but I just enjoyed and appreciated everything so much more than I had in years past.”
McDonough plans to carry this appreciation for swimming throughout the rest of her life. Although the NCAA Championships mark the end of her collegiate swimming career, the student-athlete plans to continue swimming in the next phase of her life as well.
After graduation, the psychology and anthropology double major will move to Houston, Texas for a year-long job opportunity after which she hopes to gain admittance to graduate school. Throughout this transition, she plans to keep swimming for as long as possible.
“I’ve been swimming for 14 years now so I’m always going to have a special place for swimming in my heart,” reminisces McDonough. “I’m definitely going to come back to it at some point as a work out and maybe join a masters team later on.
“Although, I’ll confess I’m kind of excited to get to work out however I want,” laughs McDonough. “I could go running or take different classes. I’ve never really had a chance to decide on my own workout when I wanted to so I think it could be fun to try out different things. But honestly, I’ll end up swimming again quicker than I’d like to admit. It’s what I know.”