Feb. 20, 2014
By Maura Jones ’14
Editor’s Note: Mulquin swam the 200 medley relay Wednesday night at the ACC Championships with teammates Emma Reaney, Courtney Whyte and Kelly Ryan. The squad shattered the school record with a time of 1:37.61 to automatically qualify for next month’s NCAA Championships.
Swimming has produced some of the most physically and mentally tough athletes in the world. Grueling workouts in and out of the pool, fierce competition and immense pressure all work to strengthen these athletes, but few have been tested to the extent that Catherine Mulquin has been pushed.
Growing up Mulquin suffered from scoliosis – curvature of the spine – and as a result had to wear a large, extremely tight brace that extended the full length of her back all hours of the day. From sixth to ninth grade Mulquin, a current freshman on the University of Notre Dame swimming and diving team, was only permitted to remove the brace to swim.
“I ended up picking the right sport because otherwise I would not have been able to do it. I guess in that way swimming was kind of meant to be,” Mulquin says. “I think it helped me along my swimming journey because it made me appreciate swimming so much more because I could get my brace off and move around. I realized then how lucky I was that the brace was working and that I wouldn’t need to have surgery.”
Otherwise, Mulquin would have had to face the prospect of undergoing surgery that would have left her with two permanent metal rods in her back to correct the spine. Thankfully, Mulquin would see improvements from the use of her brace and now only experiences some pain in her back on occasion.
“I am really glad that that didn’t happen, and I know that swimming helped me through that,” she explains. “That was my escape from it, and swimming has been close to my heart because of that.”
Mulquin underwent a lot of difficulties related to her scoliosis including having to endure others’ stares at swim meets, as she had to wear the brace between events. She also had to get resized for multiple different braces throughout the four years because she was not able to eat much given how tight it was.
“My mom and dad really helped me. My dad was with me when I first put it on, and I couldn’t even wear it out into the parking lot or wear it for thirty minutes. My mom would always be there when I was crying at night, and they were always there. I don’t think I could have done it without them,” Mulquin says. “All of my friends on the swim team would help me put it on and off during swim meets, and they made it seem like not a big deal to help me. It hurt, but it was O.K.”
With the help of those close to her, Mulquin has been able to accomplish and learn a lot. Her experiences have not been all bad, and she seems to have gained a lot of perspective.
“Those are definitely growing up years,” she says. “That definitely helped me grow up mentally and not just physically. It made me realize what was really important in life.
“I guess that is why my mom always said that I was more mature than people my age. I was forced to grow up in that way. I think that helped me in life and with swimming as well.”
Mulquin certainly grew through her experience, and afterward saw a lot of improvement in her swimming career. Now as a freshman at Notre Dame, she is looking forward to making her mark on Irish swimming.
“The competition is definitely a lot better in college meets. That’s expected, but I am really happy with how the season has been going. I did get a few best times this year, so that is always a plus,” Mulquin says. “Just being able to contribute to the team in anyway, like being on a relay, means more than anything.”
Eventually Mulquin would like to make it to the NCAA Championships and swim again at the next Olympic Trials.
“I went to the Olympic Trials the summer before my senior year of high school. I definitely want to go back. That was like no other meet that you’ll ever be in,” Mulquin says excitedly. “It’s just that no one swims in front of that many people. It’s huge. When I walked out there were all of these lights, and there were fireworks too.”
Although she didn’t hit her best times, she was happy with her performance and feels that it has helped her transition into collegiate swimming.
“I think that having been at that top level already really helps to calm my nerves and know that I can face anything,” Mulquin says. “My goal next time is to place a lot higher and make more of a name for Notre Dame.”
Not only has Mulquin been able to make a successful transition in the water, but she is also extremely happy with her life outside of swimming. Much like her teammates were like family to her in club and high school swimming, she has found her place in the Notre Dame swimming family.
“I couldn’t love it more. I am obsessed, and I don’t want to leave any time soon. I have kind of grown up having a swimming family because summer league is such a big thing in my area,” Mulquin says. “It’s different in college, though, because I go to class with some of my teammates as well. It’s kind of your real family here. Back home they are just your swim family, but here you’re with them all of the time.”
She has made a special bond with all of the freshmen on the team, and they all get family dinner together on Sunday nights. Additionally, she has found a mentor in senior swimmer Kelly Ryan.
“She was my host last year on my recruiting trip. That in some ways got me closest to her,” Mulquin explains. “We are alike in a lot of ways, and we swim a lot of the same strokes. She is one of my best friends on the team, and I look up to her for sure. She has gone to the top of the NCAAs the past couple of years, so I definitely want to be like her.”
Not only has Mulquin found her place in the water, but she’s also formed relationships that have made Notre Dame special for her.
“I could talk all day about how much I love Notre Dame, and my family feels the same. I am just really happy about how proud that I can make them and myself. This is the greatest place ever.”