With the Dinos' second place finish in last year's varsity swimming season, 12 years of swimming behind her and Olympic trials on the horizon, by some standards, third-year Dinos swimmer Emma Spooner is still a rookie.
"I guess in the scheme of things, it's not that long," Spooner says about starting the sport when she was 12. "Some people have been swimming since they were four."
Spooner has been immersed in sport since her teens, when she was in both ballet and swimming. Eventually, she had to make a decision: which activity to pursue and which to leave by the wayside. She chose swimming. And even though she laughs while convincing herself that most of the time she's comfortable with that choice, she's not exactly sure why she picked aquatics over dancing in the first place.
"I did both kind of recreationally, but they both started getting to a level where the commitment was way too much and I had to pick one," she says. "I've always loved swimming. I just get a rush from it."
Fortunately for Spooner, she never experienced the horror stories that tarnish adolescent sports. While the load was intense--Spooner trained for both activities daily--she had a good support system that drives her even today.
"My parents have always been great," she remembers. "But I always get nervous when they come watch. I'd say 'mom, dad, don't come watch me,'--unless I do well."
Any pressures Spooner had as a teen are only magnified now. She's currently in her third year of an English degree, taking five courses and training 11 months out of the year. She's able to manage though, but she doesn't work. And with up to nine three-hour practices per week, she doesn't have time for much else.
This year, her training is more intense, and she has a new coach. While it might not make her life any easier to balance, she's got bigger things in mind, beginning with her competition.
"There's lots of people that, every time you go up, you think, 'oh, I have to race them again,'" she says. "But it all comes down to who has the best day, who has the best race. It's that close."
In everyday competition, this is a big concern. In some events last year, Spooner did have the best race. In the National Long Course Finals, she won the 50m Breast Stroke, admittedly her strongest event. However, next year will bring a challenge of much greater significance than any university-level swim meet. Next year, Spooner will attend the trials for the 2004 Olympics, an event she looks forward to with cautious optimism.
"My ultimate goal is to go to the Olympics," says Spooner. "If I make the 2004 Olympics, that would be great, but I'm not sure about the likelihood of that happening. 2008 is probably more of a possibility."
In 2004, she'll be 23 years old. By 2008, she'll be in her late '20s. However, while athletes in some sports have a shelf-life of a couple years, Spooner may still be years from her prime.
"You look at some people, and they peak at age 16 and they're done," she says, adding that women typically peak earlier than men. "But some people like [Canadian swimmer] Marianne Limpert--she's pushing 28 and going strong."
With the pressure mounting, both in terms of her performace at the U of C and with the upcoming trials, Spooner can still have fun, even if it doesn't show as much as it used to.
"It's a little bit different now because the work going into it is harder," she says. "We have video tapes of me swimming when I was younger and I was always swimming with this huge smile on my face."
And with the competition building, is this still a reality almost ten years later?
"Sometimes," she answers, with a smile.