By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Over the past year – in and out of the pool – Rachel Bootsma has grown up.
She’s evolved from the young girl who struggled with the transition from high school to college last fall, to a confident young woman who knows what she wants and is willing to put in the work to get it.
Now, with a full year under her belt and the acceptance of her new role as mentor to the incoming freshmen still finding their way (she said she remembers it well herself), Bootsma is looking forward to her sophomore year and season at the University of California-Berkeley.
In fact, it was the relationships she built with her teammates last year that helped give her the confidence to know she is in the right place.
“It took me a little while, but somewhere around November or December last year, I really started feeling like a college student-athlete,” said Bootsma, who left Minnesota for California to attend college. “This year, I feel like I have things much better under control, and I looked forward to coming back to school all summer.”
While college living was somewhat of a difficult change for Bootsma, one thing didn’t change for her as a freshman: dominance in the water. Despite it being her first year, she focused and swam fast enough to win the 100 backstroke for her first individual NCAA Championship title earlier this spring.
Swimming definitely kept Bootsma busy while she pined to return to her new home away from home.
At the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships at the end of June, she qualified in the 50 backstroke – setting a new American record (27.68) in the process – to compete at FINA World Championships in Barcelona in July.
And while she didn’t medal in Spain, Bootsma said she qualifies the experience as another step – added to the huge one she took in London last summer at the 2012 Olympics – toward becoming a more complete swimmer and person.
“It might be easy to assume that having swum at the Pan American Games or the Olympics would make Worlds much easier, but they are very different, and with Worlds being new to me, I didn’t swim quite as well as I wanted,” said Bootsma, who won Olympic gold in London as a member (prelims) of the 400 medley relay team.
“Each experience is a building block for me toward becoming a better racer and swimmer. I know I’m only as good as my last best swim, so I feel like I always have something to prove, whether it’s swimming in college, at Nationals or the Olympics.”
While she competed well enough to make the World team, Bootsma said she swam much of the summer mentally tired. Physically, she was on her game and ready to swim, but the excitement, change and speed of the last 12 months had taken their toll on her psyche.
After months of intense training for the Olympic Trials, followed by training camp and then the London Games, she only had a week at the conclusion of the Olympics before she left for California to start her freshman year. Her life had been going at that same harried pace through Worlds this summer.
After Worlds, she took some time for herself, still swimming but allowing opportunity for reflection about what she’d done and accomplished over the past year – and where she still wanted to take her life in and out of the pool.
“I hadn’t taken any time off since months before the Olympics, so I needed to unwind, reflect and just rest my mind a bit,” said Bootsma, who returned home to Minnesota this summer after Worlds. “I generally don’t feel pressure, but when I do, I feel it from myself. I have very high expectations for myself. It’s part of what motivates me to want to accomplish more.”
Now, with U.S. National teammate and all-everything swimmer (and multiple Olympic and World gold medalist) Missy Franklin and a very strong returning nucleus of swimmers joining her in Berkeley, Bootsma said she is focused on her team and doing what she can to help the Golden Bears reclaim the NCAA Championship they lost earlier this year to the University of Georgia.
She’s also focused on enjoying her sophomore year in the classroom and in the water.
“I’m looking forward to a very fun year now that I’m acclimated to my school environment and everything associated with college; it’s a great time in my life,” said Bootsma, who has embraced the California weather and lifestyle, even calling herself a “California Girl.”
“NCAAs are in my hometown (Minneapolis) in March, so I’ll have lots of friends and family there to root me and my teammates on. It will be a great way to end the college season before getting ready for the rest of the year.”