When Torri Huske first learned to swim as a five-year-old, she was so tiny, she had to wear a wet suit to stay warm in the water.
Even back then, what she may have lacked in body weight she more than made up for in heart, determination, focus and talent.
They continue to drive her today as one of the best high school swimmers in the United States and a top contender next summer to make her first Olympic team.
“I was always cold even when the water was warm,” said Huske, the 2019 Female High School Swimmer of the Year as chosen by Swimming World magazine. “Because I was always cold – shivering even with my wet suit on – I hated swimming at first.
“But I gave it a couple of years, and by the time year two came along, I was totally into it. I loved the team aspect of it, and that’s something I still love today. I still get cold in the water these days, but I know a lot more techniques and tricks to warm my body up quickly.”
Huske persevered through those early cold struggles to emerge over the past year as one of the top young swimmers in the world.
At 2019 FINA World Junior Championships in Budapest this past August, she won six medals – five gold and one silver – to tie for the most in the competition. She was part of the mixed medley relay team that broke the World Junior Record.
A few weeks before that, she broke and even more illustrious record – one of the oldest on the books – when she eclipsed Mary T. Meagher’s 38-year-old 15-16 National Age Group record at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships.
Last week at the Toyota U.S. Open Championships in Atlanta, she added her first senior-level national title to her already impressive resume when she won the 100 butterfly (beating 2016 Olympian and World Champion team member Kelsi Dahlia) and set a new meet record and lowered her own 15-16 NAG record to 57.48. Huske also finished third in the 200 individual medley.
Suffice it to say, it’s been a busy and highly productive 2019 for the Yorktown (Va.) High School junior and top college recruit – and in many ways, she’s just getting started.
“Even though I’m seeing some national and international success in the water, I’m still just that young swimmer who loves seeing her teammates every day and enjoys working hard and seeing that hard work pay off,” she said. “I try not to buy into all the hype surrounding me because I don’t see myself the same way as other people do. I’m still just Torri.”
How much is she still “just Torri?” When she broke Meagher’s longstanding Age Group Record this past August, she was largely unphased.
She knew who the swimming legend was, but had to watch YouTube videos of her to really get an idea of her style and how far ahead of the rest of the swimming world she was in the early 1980s.
“She didn’t wear the suits we do today or even wear goggles back then and she still swam so fast,” Huske said. “I’ve never met her, but having watched her swim, I know now that it’s quite an honor to break one of her records. She was amazing.”
While she understands the magnitude of having her name spoken in the same sentence with Meagher’s, Huske said she knows she still has a lot to learn in order to reach the same legendary status.
It’s something she aspires to, but with her first Olympic Trials coming next summer in Omaha, she said she prefers to not think about the comparisons because she wants to swim pressure-free and not only enjoy the experience but swim fast.
She knows having competed at a large international meet this year like Junior Worlds as well as domestic meets at Phillips 66 Nationals and the Toyota U.S. Open only makes her a stronger competitor, so she expects the same thing next summer in Omaha.
“I honestly don’t think about it (expectations at Trials) because I know I put enough pressure on myself that I don’t need other peoples’ expectations on me as well,” said Huske, whose mother hails from China. “I prefer to channel any pressure I might feel toward my races. That just motivates me more and helps me swim faster.
“I’ve not been to Trials before – just watched it on TV – so I know I’ll be a little bit scared. But I know based on recent meets, I’ll be prepared. Trials is a different type of meet, but I’m excited to compete and enjoy the experience.”
And while she’s yet to make and announce her college decision – she is one of the top recruits in the nation – Huske said right now she’s excited to focus on her junior year leading up to Trials next summer and see where things take her.
Tokyo next summer would be her ideal destination, of course. But even if that doesn’t happen in 2020, she said she knows she still has a lot of swimming success ahead of her.
And if that means waiting for Paris in 2024, Huske said she’ll be patient. She knows she still has room for improvement – to get stronger and faster to be ready when it is her turn.
“I know success isn’t overnight, even though it might appear that the past year for me has been overnight in some ways,” said Huske, who enjoys painting in water colors as a way to relax and express herself. “But it wasn’t. It’s the result of years of hard work.
It’s particularly great when you get the opportunity to see everything come together, especially a year ahead of the Olympics, because you know you’re doing things right. But if next summer isn’t my time to make the Olympic team, then I know I’ll have another opportunity four years later. I’m just loving swimming right now, and excited to see what the future holds for me.”
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