By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, January 17, 2020
Growing up, Kaitlyn Dobler dreamed of being two things – an astronaut and an Olympian.
Set to enroll (and swim) at the University of Southern California this fall, she’s ready to take her first educational steps toward making a future in space a reality.
As for accomplishing the Olympian part of her dream, the soon-to-be high school graduate is just a few months away from taking her first step at Olympic Trials.
And based on the year she’s had leading up to Omaha, she knows she close to realizing that dream – but if it doesn’t happen this year, she knows it’s well within reach.
“Even if I don’t make this year’s team, I know I have the 2024 Trials to try again, so I’m going into the meet in Omaha with very little pressure,” said Dobler, who will study mechanical engineering at USC and then wants to study aerospace engineering in graduate school. “But, of course, I’d really love to make this year’s team. It will be exciting.”
A relative newcomer to the national and international swimming scene – she won multiple medals last summer at FINA World Junior Championships and then followed that up with a second-place finish in the 100 breaststroke at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – Dobler has really only allowed herself to believe she can make the Olympic team within the past year or so.
With a year of milestones on the way in 2020 – turning 18, graduating high school and going to her dream college – she would certainly love to add U.S. Olympian to that list.
“I think every kid dreams of one day making the Olympic team, and I am no exception to that,” she said. “But based on the past year, I am starting to believe that I can swim well and possibly make the team at Trials.
“I didn’t make Trials cuts for the 2016 meet, so this will be my first Trials, and I’m excited to experience it all. I know it’s going to be a bit overwhelming, and I will be awestruck competing against swimmers I grew up idolizing. But I’m really looking forward to being there.”
Dobler got her start in the sport as a 3-year-old because, like a lot of young swimmers, her parents wanted her to be safe around water.
She started with basic swim lessons, and then swam recreationally before joining her club team at age 8. She loved being in the water – and she was good at it – so she stuck with it and continued to improve.
“I loved the relationships I made in swimming, and I loved being active,” she said. “My friends on my team are still one of the main reasons I enjoy going to practice every day.
“When I was in the third grade, I wrote out a New Year’s resolution that I was going to be an Olympian someday. I still have it hanging on my wall in my bedroom, and it is a great reminder of my goal.”
And while she hasn’t been to – or competed in – Trials yet, Dobler said she knows her recent experience and exposure to some of the best in her events is preparing her for what’s still to come.
Two years ago, she competed at a TYR Pro Swim event and swam in the lane next to Breeja Larson, who has been one of her favorites since she made the 2012 Olympic team.
At that same meet, she saw Katie Ledecky for the first time, and while she admits she was a bit awestruck; she quickly came to the conclusion that while they are special in the water, they are still people like her.
“That realization has helped me know that they are normal people who may be larger than life in the pool but are down-to-earth people you can have a conversation with just like anyone else,” she said.
“When we’re little, we watch them on TV or at meets and see what they are accomplishing and then build them up in our minds to be superheroes. And while they are great, they are also still people. Keeping that in mind while you’re swimming with them helps you know that you can compete with them.”
Now that she’s a member of the 2019-20 National Team, Dobler feels more legitimate than ever as a top-caliber swimmer and embraces the expectations that come with that.
In addition to her Oregon high school championship meets, she said she is planning to compete in the TYR Pro Swim Series at Mission Viejo in April and then she’ll attend the National Team camp in Colorado Springs to get in some long course training before Trials in late June.
For the time being, however, Dobler’s focus is finishing high school swimming on a high note, graduating and being in the best possible position she can be to do her best in Omaha.
“The past few years have been really fantastic for me, and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone – my parents, my coaches and my teammates – in my life who has helped me get to this point in my swimming. I couldn’t have accomplished any of this without them.
“I’ve seen some strong improvements in my swimming over this time, and my time drops within the past year, especially in the 200 breaststroke, have really given me the confidence I know I will need to compete at Trials. Mixing up my pool with dryland training has been a big part of my improvement, and I just want to keep doing whatever I need to keep getting faster.”