by Sue Ann Rybak
Many times in life the most successful person is not necessarily the most talented person, but rather the person who is the most passionate and committed to achieving his or her goal.
Erdenheim resident Sierra Schmidt, an eighth-grader at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, knows the meaning of discipline. She recently was selected to attend the USA Swimming’s National Select Camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., to train at the Olympic Training Center. Only 30 girls in the country, aged 14-16, are selected to attend this camp.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – one that Schmidt, 14, worked hard to achieve. She specializes in the 500-, 1000- and 1500-yard butterfly and freestyle and swims 30 to 35 hours a week. It’s almost like working a full-time job.
Schmidt wakes up at 5 a.m. to make it to her first practice in the morning and then goes home to get ready for school. After school she swims from 3 to 6 p.m. On Saturdays she swims from 7:30 a.m. to noon and on Sundays from 9 to 11 a.m.
“My schedule is pretty hectic,” said Schmidt, who has been swimming competitively since she was 6 years old.
And the truth is, sometimes she just doesn’t feel like swimming. She just wants to be a typical teenager and hang out with her friends – Katie and Mika.
“Last year, it was hard socially,” Schmidt said. “I was feeling left out and I was still trying to figure out where I wanted to be.”
But she is focused on her goal of one day making it to the Olympic trials.
“I was raised on the idea that there is always another step,” Schmidt said. “In seventh grade, I just wanted to make the sectional cut.”
She did. Now, she is focused on making the Junior National Team and hopes some day try out for the Olympics.
“Hopefully, I can keep my intensity up,” Schmidt said. “If I can push myself past my limits, I can achieve that goal.”
But she adds quickly, there are a lot of talented girls out there.
“Two girls in my age group were at the finals at Olympic trials,” she said. “This camp is a stepping stone. It’s an opportunity for me to go to the next level.”
And that’s exactly what her coach Dick Schoulberg, head coach and aquatics director at Germantown Academy hopes to do. Schoulberg said he started the Germantown Academy Aquatic Club in 1969 with “the intent to provide the opportunity for youth to go to the highest level of competitive swimming.” Since then, he has trained 11 Olympians including Maddy Crippen, Alex Fung, Guy Yimsomruay and Dave Wharton.
Schoulberg, who was the head coach for the USA Pan-Pac Team (Brazil) in 2007, recalled watching Schmidt swim two years ago. He said she had a tremendous sense of pace and technique.
“She did everything methodically right,” Schoulberg said. “I said that’s special. I identify talent – that’s my job. It’s no different than a music teacher or physics teacher. If I see a student with a certain mentality, temperament and talent, then I’ll challenge them. Conversely, I have never cut a kid. You’ll always be hoping they’ll find their skills and start to get a little more engaged.”
He said The USA Swimming’s National Select Camp teaches kids what they have to do to get to the next level.
Schoulberg said athletes will meet with Olympic medalists and work with exercise physiologists.
“Participants are videotaped above and underwater for stroke correction and analysis” he said.
Swimmers will learn practical psychological training skills, nutrition, drug and supplement education and race strategy. Other topics that will be discussed include post-race recovery and drug testing responsibilities.
“It’s not for everybody. and everybody doesn’t have that talent,” said Schoulberg.