March 4, 2014
By Ben Brockman ‘16
Kelly Ryan understands what it takes to book a ticket to the NCAA Championships. Having already qualified for what will be her third consecutive appearance at the championship meet, the senior swimmer knows what kind of work ethic is necessary to achieve her goals.
“My sophomore year I didn’t expect to qualify at all. I was actually the last person they took into the meet in the 200 back,” Ryan says. “I worked really hard my sophomore year, and every year after that it has been kind of a conscious decision to work harder than you ever had before.”
Ryan says that in swimming times and competitors are always getting faster, and she has had to raise her performance level each year simply to stay on the same level. Lucky for her, the team as a whole has also been able to increase with the competition, as the Irish will be sending more swimmers to the NCAA Championships this year than any other year since Ryan came to Notre Dame.
“My sophomore year it was only Emma Reaney, Jenny Chiang and I at the meet. Now I think we have eight girls in the water and possibly two or three divers that will go to the meet,” she says. “It has been really cool to kind of rise with the team and keep going in the direction that we are going.”
Ryan sees the improvement that has come over the past couple of years stemming from two main factors: recruiting and team chemistry. While stressing the fact that the team has been able to have many talented recruits in the past few years, she has really enjoyed seeing the way that the team has been able to grow and develop as a squad.
“This year we have had the best team connection that we have had since I’ve been at Notre Dame,” Ryan says. “I think that the teammates’ connections with each other have pushed everyone to be significantly better than we were before.”
Along with her relay teammates, Ryan has also managed to set personal and school bests this season. The 200 medley relay team consisting of Ryan, freshman Catherine Mulquin
, Reaney and junior Courtney Whyte
qualified for the NCAAs at the ACC Championship meet Feb. 20.
In the process they smashed the former Notre Dame school record by over a second with a time of 1:37.61 to finish third.
“Swimming is sort of an individual sport, so that is why I love relays so much, because I love the team aspect,” Ryan says. “It’s awesome to share the moment of getting a best time with three other girls. It’s so much better than getting a best time by yourself.”
A swimmer since the age of eight, Ryan understands the bittersweet nature of her final meet at the NCAA Championships.
“Swimming is one of the sports you have to truly love to be committed this long, because it is so time consuming and you train for hours and hours for maybe two minutes of fame,” she says. “[I want to] have fun [at NCAAs] because it is my last meet ever, which is really sad, but also pretty exciting to move on to the next chapter of my life."
A pre-health and Spanish major, Ryan looks to take a gap year to do service and improve her Spanish before applying to medical school the following year.
“Most people don’t think that my majors fit together very well, but I actually decided that I wanted to focus on Spanish and pre-med when I was on a mission trip,” she explains. “I just realized, ‘Whoa, that was an awesome feeling I had every day after the trip.’ I wanted to have that feeling for the rest of my life. I decided I was going to focus on those two things that I really love.”
Ryan is able to relate the challenges that she will encounter after college to her experience swimming over the past four years.
“Next on my plate is trying to become a doctor,” she says. “Hopefully I will put as much focus, determination and passion into that as I have into swimming and I will be successful.”
The work ethic necessary of all student athletes at Notre Dame will be helpful moving forward into medical school, but Ryan says that some of the other things that she did at Notre Dame may have been more beneficial to her success.
“The key for me was doing things that aren’t swimming and aren’t academics to keep me sane,” she says.
For Ryan, that was the A cappella group Halftime. She says that while this did add more commitments to her schedule, it has allowed her to improve as both an athlete and a student.
“Staying involved in Halftime and making a little bit of time each week for things that I love to do has been really helpful for me staying focused on school and swimming,” she says.
From Spanish to medicine to singing, Ryan has been able to use much of her time at Notre Dame to explore her passions. Ultimately though, she knows her sport will always hold a special place for her.
“I will always be a swimmer. I think once I have two weeks out of the pool after I am done I am going to miss it,” she says. “Swimming is awesome in that you can do it basically your whole life ... I am going to be swimming until I’m 80.”