Feb. 7, 2014
By Caley Martinez ’17
A swimmer since the age of three, Courtney Whyte is finally reaching one of the most important moments of her career. The Irish swimmer’s hope to attend nationals later this season is becoming more of a reality as the season progresses, and her potential grows with every stroke she takes.
“Swimming is a sport where there are ups and downs,” Whyte says. “Gradually, I’ve been doing well in college, but this year has definitely been a lot better. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself in case I don’t make it [to nationals], but it’s definitely exciting because that is the peak of collegiate swimming. So to be able to make that would be great.”
Having been in the water for the majority her life, Whyte’s California upbringing helped her get into the sport. Growing up near Olympic medalists Dana Vollmer and Natalie Coughlin didn’t hurt her enthusiasm.
“I started swimming because my older brother did. I am also from California, and that is kind of just what you do,” she explains. “I’ve always enjoyed watching Dana Vollmer, and seeing that I am from California very close to Berkley, the fact that she is a Cal swimmer and also a butterflier appealed to me.”
Being exposed to the sport at such a young age set the stage for Whyte’s passion and potential to flourish. Her advance in swimming did not come without tough decisions that had to be made in the process.
Whyte will be the first to admit that in such a tough sport that requires unadulterated commitment, she had to make the choice to be great, not just good. This was her decision even if it meant giving other interests up in an effort to achieve one of her lifelong goals of swimming at the collegiate level.
“[Swimming in college] was always something that would most likely happen, so in eighth grade my swim coach pulled me aside and told me I had to choose whether I was going to become a really good swimmer or play water polo,” Whyte recalls. “I was pretty good at water polo, but he told me he thought I could be better in one or the other if I just stuck to it. Water polo was always fun, but I was always better at swimming, and I knew that I probably had a better future in it.”
Choosing swimming as her core sport, Whyte quickly found her niche. Those events that she became passionate about also became those that she was the best at.
“[My favorite is] probably the 100 butterfly,” she says. “I like the 200 butterfly when I’m tapered at a big meet, but not really in dual meets. I’ve always been butterfly and backstroke, so I guess I’m just a butterflier, definitely not a breaststroker though.”
The 100 fly is a good choice for Whyte as she ranks third in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 43rd nationally in the event with a career-best time of 53.44.
Many why follow the sport of swimming or have watched Michael Phelps in action know that butterfly is no small feat, but Whyte competes in the strenuous event with a smile on her face. The driving force behind this very optimism and desire to push further even when she hits the wall stems from her hard-working nature and commitment to being the best she can be.
“For me a lot of it is that I’ve worked so hard up to this point that I don’t want to let it go at the last moment,” Whyte says. “I guess I’ve just gone through it so many times that I’m just kind of used to it and it’s something that you have to learn to get through.”
As an Irish athlete, Whyte spends only part of her time at Notre Dame in the water, while the rest of her time is being a student. She similarly imparts that very same determination in the water toward her academic endeavors ever since she arrived her freshman year.
“It was definitely hard coming in freshmen year – seeing that I am pre-med, there were a lot of hard classes,” Whyte describes. Especially because my club team at home wasn’t very intense, practices were pretty easy and I wasn’t ever that tired. So coming here and being exhausted all the time, and then expecting to stay up late doing homework was hard, but it has definitely gotten easier over the years. Swimming is also a good break to come to and not worry about school.”
When talking about her decision to commit to Notre Dame and the experiences she has had here thereafter, Whyte appreciates her good judgment, knowing it was the right choice for her.
“I knew I wanted to leave California – I wanted something different,” she explains. “It was weird because I had never been to Indiana and to be honest didn’t even know where Notre Dame was before I got recruited here. I’m not Catholic either, but I really liked my recruiting trip and I liked the girls that I was with. Then basically all the girls that I met committed here, so that was cool. It just one of those places that when you step on campus, I couldn’t say no.”
Those very same girls that Whyte had met and bonded with during her first time on campus have become some of the closest members of her Irish family.
“We are a really close group of girls and practices are great, but it’s the times off the pool deck that are really fun,” Whyte says. “I know I will always remember the meets and training trips because they are really exciting.”
Close with her teammates out of the pool, Whyte rooms with fellow juniors Emma Reaney and Melissa Scott and sophomores Anna Grainger and Genevieve Bradford. The quintet tries to use their time in their time in the dorm to get away from swimming.
“We are all really laid back in our room and we love to watch movies,” Whyte says. “It is hard to not talk about swimming. Sometimes we come back after a hard practice and vent, then we move on, but we try to not talk about it a lot.”
With all the effort Whyte has put into her swimming career, it’s only natural that she finds it difficult to move on out of the pool.
Throughout her time as an Irish swimmer, she has met and shattered many of her personal bests, and looking into the future, it is exciting to see what she still has left in store.