Rising out of the water, girls swim and dive co-captain and senior Norah Rutkowski grasps a momentary breath of air as she swims the butterfly stroke. Last week, Rutkowski competed alongside seven of her teammates at the state swim meet, held at St. Peters RecPlex. “This year at state, I got [No. 1 in] the 100-yard [butterfly] and fourth [in] [the 200-yard [individual medley]. [Winning] was a relief because it was something I had been wanting to do again. Freshman year was weird because it was COVID-19, and my time was relatively slow for someone to win state in that event, so I wanted to prove I could do it again,” Rutkowski said.
Rising out of the water, girls swim and dive co-captain and senior Norah Rutkowski grasps a momentary breath of air as she swims the butterfly stroke. Last week, Rutkowski competed alongside seven of her teammates at the state swim meet, held at St. Peters RecPlex. “This year at state, I got [No. 1 in] the 100-yard [butterfly] and fourth [in] [the 200-yard [individual medley]. [Winning] was a relief because it was something I had been wanting to do again. Freshman year was weird because it was COVID-19, and my time was relatively slow for someone to win state in that event, so I wanted to prove I could do it again,” Rutkowski said.
Thalea Afentoullis

Waves of wonder

Senior Norah Rutkowski secures her state championship title for the second time

Over Feb. 15-16, girls swim and dive co-captain and senior Norah Rutkowski placed first in the state for the 100-yard butterfly — an admirable feat in and of itself. However, the accomplishment was not Rutkowski’s first. Rutkowski took the title for the second time after previously earning first place in the same event her freshman season. This full-circle moment of achievement followed years of experience, multiple state races and team celebrations, thus marking the ideal send-off from Rutkowski’s high school season. 

To initially qualify for the state meet, Rutkowski’s times had to place among the top 32 of Missouri’s swimmers for her respective events. On the first day of the meet, the top 32 raced at the preliminary events for the coveted top eight spots, guaranteeing a medal. The next day, the final eight competed for the state title, where Rutkowski finished the 100-yard butterfly in first place with a time of 56 seconds — just two seconds faster than her winning time during freshman year. 

But the accomplishment was far from immediate; it was 11 years in the making. Rutkowski began her swimming journey when she was in first grade at the St. Louis Jewish Community Center. Up until the eighth grade, she also dedicated her time to gymnastics. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, Rutkowski committed solely to swimming in high school due to the socially distanced practice measures the sport provided, allowing her family to feel more comfortable in her safety. Soon after, Rutkowski joined the Clayton Shaw Park club team, the Tideriders, a community that helped her reach state during freshman year and improve throughout her high school season. 

“I won [at state] my freshman year with a [time of] 58 seconds. [But] when I was a freshman, I was just excited to be at state. I knew I was seeded first, and I wanted to win, but I didn’t feel the pressure that I did the other years I’ve gone to state,” Rutkowski. “Then, my sophomore year, I was a little slower; I moved up club groups and was getting used to a different training schedule. It was discouraging because I thought I was getting slower and not improving, despite trying hard. [In] my third year, had I [swam] my best time from a different meet that year, I would have won. I was out-touched at the finish. I knew I couldn’t control what other people did, but I wanted to do my best race and focus on finishing to the wall, not gliding in. That’s something I tried to focus on senior year.”

In order to improve her form, Rutkowski worked to persevere through her plateau of progress. Day after day, Rutkowski stuck to her training, met pace goals and practiced her racing strategies at lower-stress meets to gain confidence for state. 

“Swimming has taught me a lot about persevering and how to deal with disapp

Just because someone has swam for longer than me doesn’t mean I can’t try to keep up with them.”

— Norah Rutkowski

ointment. For a while, because I had a relatively late start to swimming compared to other people, I almost used it as an excuse. [But] just because someone has swam for longer than me doesn’t mean I can’t try to keep up with them,” Rutkowski said. “Once you reach a certain point, you start plateauing. You’re not going to drop [time] every week, so working through that and trying to have a good attitude [is important] because it has a big impact on your results.”

Beyond personal accomplishments, a further motivational factor for Rutkowski included the connection between the members of the girls swim and dive team. Through annual events like scavenger hunts or Friday morning breakfasts, the team developed a strong bond across the season. The unwavering support from her teammates made Rutkowski’s four seasons especially memorable. 

“Over the years, I’ve really enjoyed the team aspect of swimming. That’s been an important part of the experience. When people get their state cuts, everyone is cheering for each other, and it’s exciting to reach your goals with people supporting you. That’s what has made state memorable each year: people standing behind each other and knowing each other’s goals,” Rutkowski said.

Moving forward, Rutkowski plans to further her competitive swimming career at Swarthmore College. Rutkowski’s goals include a hope of eventually placing at the NCAA Division III Women’s Swimming & Diving Championship.  

“I’m going to a Division III school, so I can balance academics, but my goal is to go to nationals. Right now, my [100-yard butterfly] times are really close to the qualifying standards, but hopefully, when I’m a junior or senior, I will [place as a finalist] in the top 16 at Nationals. I’m excited about that because if I went to a Division I or Division II [school,] I probably wouldn’t have that opportunity,” Rutkowski said.

From COVID-19 masks and desolate bleachers to team cheers and roaring crowds, a lot has changed between Rutkowski’s freshman and senior year at the state meet, no matter the similar physical outcome. And despite her personal accomplishments and goals, Rutkowski values her experience, teammates and growth over the tangible medals she has won. 

“I’ve learned that how you place isn’t a good way to judge your swimming ability because there’s a lot of things that factor [into it], like who you happen to be racing, luck and if everyone racing had a good or bad day. Each year, I’ve become a better swimmer, even if it doesn’t look like it by how I placed at state. My teammates have also improved so much, and they are really what make this team special,” Rutkowski said.

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About the Contributor
Cindy Phung, A&E Editor
Pronouns: they/she Grade: 11 Years on staff: 3 What is your favorite piece of literature? "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky. Who is your hero? My dad. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Sushi.
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  • N

    NorahFeb 23, 2024 at 4:32 pm

    Thank you so much Cindy!

    Reply
  • S

    SerenaFeb 23, 2024 at 2:26 pm

    NORAHHHH

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  • W

    Will GonsiorFeb 23, 2024 at 2:23 pm

    this. is. awesome.

    Reply