By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Zoe Bartel just keeps getting better. After showing she belonged at Olympic Trials and narrowly missing the team, the senior at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins, who swims club for FAST, came back in 2017 and won gold in the 200 breaststroke and bronze in the 100 breaststroke at the FINA World Junior Championships presented by Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. this summer. She also signed with Stanford, and joins the outstanding program -- and university -- next fall. She talks about what’s happened, and what might be next, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How is swimming going now?
Zoe: I’d say it’s going pretty well. Senior year has been a ton of fun. Junior Worlds was crazy fun, and it was a really cool experience
2. What did that gold in the 200 breaststroke at World Juniors mean to you?
Zoe: It meant a lot. It was a surreal experience, especially because Ella (Nelson) and I going into this were like, “OK, let’s do this.” The boys had been phenomenal in their events in the breaststroke. So, after we watched that, after they (Daniel Roy and Reece Whitley) went 1-2, we were motivated even more.
3. Winning bronze in the 100 breaststroke -- how was that swim?
Zoe: That’s an event I have kind of struggled with in the past couple of years. It’s one I really like but it’s one I think I put a little too much pressure on myself with it. So, it was gratifying to have everything I worked on come together so well.
4. What were your goals for both breaststroke races heading into Indianapolis?
Zoe: I definitely wanted to medal in both. My biggest goal was to go best times in both events. I obviously didn’t in one of them, but I ended up (laughs) winning that event! So that’s (laughs) the trade-off.
5. How did 2016 Olympic Trials shape you moving forward?
Zoe: It showed me what else there is in swimming. Before that meet I didn’t know what there was outside of Nationals. I didn’t understand all these other meets and teams -- I hadn’t been part of that before. That really opened up doors for me -- so many other things I could reach for that aren’t 400 steps away -- maybe they are 20 steps away.
6. Looking at how all this stacked up, you had a big Junior Pan Pacs in 2016, winning gold in both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, what was that meet like and what did you take from it?
Zoe: It was a monumental step for me. I went from never qualifying for a Junior Team, never going to a team camp, to making a team and winning gold in my two best events at the meet. It also showed me the hard work I have accumulated through the years has been something that can really take me places.
7. Lilly King -- whose 100 breaststroke meet record you broke at Junior Pan Pacs has been amazing – what was it like in the Ready Room with her when you were at Olympic Trials?
Zoe: It was extremely (laughs) intimidating. She’s an amazing person. She works so hard in the weight room and pool. And in competition she is like no one else. To be in a ready room with her when I had never been in one with her before, I was so (laughs) scared. And I didn’t have my music or anything with me. So, I brought my music with me for the next race and it was a lot better. But now, to know her, just makes her that much more incredible. She is literally more amazing than you even see on television. She is that talented and that driven. It’s weird to say this, but when you’re a kid, you don’t think of these people as real people, but they really are just people. And once you talk to someone like Lilly and they want to get to know you, it’s one of the coolest things you could ever imagine.
8. You seem very organized, how do you balance swimming, school and everything else?
Zoe: I get a lot of help from my parents. Ever since I was little, they have been very supportive of me. During high school, they helped me transition from depending mostly on them to doing most things on my own. But their help was letting me figure things out -- how to get things done, that really helped me get to where I am now.
9. Your IM and even backstroke are so strong, do you also train that -- and maybe see yourself even as a freestyler in certain events?
Zoe: Maybe not freestyle -- I’m not the best (laughs) in freestyle. I prefer not to train with the focus being on one stroke. I have always preferred training IM. I might focus on backstroke or breaststroke on a particular day depending on how I’m feeling and what our set is, but IM is just a great way to train and approach everything.
10. It’s great to have so many good schools pursuing you, but to sign with one of the best universities in the entire world -- how awesome is that?
Zoe: It’s so cool. Ever since I was little, we never thought I would get to the point where I would look at the Number one swim school and that academics would help get me there. Something in the past year switched and I ended up getting into one of the best academic schools in the world that also is the NCAA Champion in swimming. I feel very fortunate.
11. You posted your decision on Instagram, what was your reason and how was it received?
Zoe: I’d say for me it was the easiest way to do it. I don’t have a Twitter or a Facebook. I felt like it was my decision and the people I wanted to know I was friends with (on Instagram). I felt the best way to reach them all was Instagram, then I went back and notified the (swim media).
12. When you are at a big meet like Trials, Pan Pacs or World Juniors, how do you mentally get ready for a race after you have won a medal or not gotten the placing you sought?
Zoe: The same way you get ready for any race you do in practice; a club meet, or a high school meet. The most important thing you are able to do in swimming is consistency -- your warm-up, preparation and nutrition. If you can make those habits, it makes for the best results. If I’m in a club meet, I’ll warm up the same way I do at World Juniors. Obviously, it’ll vary situationally because of time, different pools, how crowded it is, so then you just adapt to do what you know you have to do.
13. You will join some great personalities at Stanford in Simone Manuel, Ella Eastin, Katie Ledecky and so many others -- what have they told you to expect?
Zoe: Everyone has been so helpful and encouraging. Don’t be overwhelmed by it all, that kind of thing. Classes are obviously going to be hard because it’s Stanford, but they are not so monumentally hard that you can’t handle school and swimming. Plus, the coaches, Greg and Tracy, are very supportive of academics. They all told me it’s overwhelming initially, but as soon as you get rolling it’s okay.
14. Making the decision when you did -- was it nice to have that pressure off or was it something where it just unfolded organically?
Zoe: I think from the beginning I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. I’m not someone who is very touchy-feely, like, “Maybe I want this or maybe I want that.” I knew I wouldn’t get everything I wanted. But ones that didn’t have 3 of 4 things, I knew I would just remove those. I don’t know if deciding early took the pressure off, but it did take off some work and stress for the rest of summer, having to set up phone calls or emails with such a busy schedule. Plus, everyone who recruited me was wonderful -- they were all understanding and gave me a bunch of options. All they want is honest communication from you, and they give you that as well.
15. I’ve live in both Palo Alto and Fort Collins, and while the temp is much warmer in Palo Alto, you’ll still have a brisk breeze in summer -- are you looking forward to the change?
Zoe: I think so. I’m someone who really wants to be outside all the time. So even in winter I’ll be skiing, which probably isn’t (laughs) the best thing for swimmers! But I do ski a lot in the backcountry to avoid other skiers and the injuries that can happen around a crowd. I am really excited now with college coming up, to be swimming year-round and enjoy the outdoors a little more during the winter.
16. What’s your dryland training like right now and how do you expect that to change at Stanford?
Zoe: We don’t have a gym here (at her Fort Collins pool) so we do our dryland on deck. I do yoga on my own time. I’m looking forward to that at Stanford because their strength and conditioning staff is so incredible -- super-well educated, professional in every area. I’m very excited about that. And I am someone who loves dryland in general.
17. How old were you when you started swimming and were you good right away?
Zoe: (laughs) I was 6 years old when I started summer league and I was terrible! I couldn’t do a flip turn until I was 9. It just overall didn’t go well. I grew up in Arizona for a while and when I moved to Colorado I started to like it more. I had a great coach and she was really tough, but she got things done. And I made great connections and friendships with the people in Fort Collins.
18. What other sports did you play when you were younger, and did you enjoy them?
Zoe: I did enjoy them -- I started off playing soccer. I played lacrosse. And I ski a lot. Mostly skiing and hiking are what I do and enjoy the most, in addition to swimming.
19. Hearing the National Anthem when you win at these International meets -- how do you explain what you are feeling in that moment to people?
Zoe: I’d say it’s overwhelming to the point that you almost go numb -- there aren’t really words to describe it accurately, or at least I do not have those words in my vocabulary! I sang along to it, under my breath -- because no one (laughs) wants to hear me sing! But it’s a moment I will remember forever.
20. What have you learned about yourself since Olympic Trials -- what has it taught you about what you’re capable of and how you set your goals?
Zoe: Oh my gosh, so many things! I should probably just pick one or two. The biggest one for me is that setting small weekly or even daily goals helps me more than setting the big end-of-season goals. I mean, I obviously, I have that goal and know where I want to end up. But if I focus on the small things, I’ll work better and more effectively towards those big goals. Maybe it’s taking one stroke off of a 50 -- just paying attention to the details at every step along the way. The other thing is that I’ve found myself happier and better in the pool when I have other things going on in my life. I love swimming, but when I’m doing something more than putting my face in the water all the time it helps me perform better and enjoy it more. My sophomore year (of high school), leading up to (Olympics) Trials, I wanted to ski more, so I made the time to enjoy that, and I think it really helped my mindset along the way and my motivation heading into June.
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