By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, October 4, 2018
Even though she qualified for this summer’s Pan Pacific Championship and next year’s World Championship meets in the 200 butterfly, Katie Drabot still sees herself as a freestyler first.
She said she sees it as a way to keep herself grounded and free from the pressures and expectations of being one of the world’s best fliers.
Still, there’s no denying that after this summer’s results – second at Phillips 66 USA Swimming Championships and third at Pan Pacs – she will be expected to do more of the same leading up to Tokyo in 2020.
She knows she’s up to the challenge even if she may not be up for the outside expectations.
“Nationals were only the second official time I swam the 200 fly, so I went into the event feeling free and with no real pressure because I honestly didn’t have any real expectations,” said Drabot, a junior human biology major at Stanford.
“I just wanted to go out and swim a great race. I knew making the Pan Pacs and World teams was on the table, but I wasn’t sure how realistic it was against the rest of the world.”
What Drabot quickly learned was that despite not putting in much actual hardcore training in the event, she has a natural talent that doesn’t need too much coaching.
But up until this year’s Phillips 66 Nationals, her best events were the distance races – which she also swam in Irvine.
And even though she performed well in the mid-distance freestyle events – making the B finals in both the 200 and 400 races – Drabot said she will always think of herself predominantly as a freestyler.
After all, it was in the freestyle stroke where she first excelled – learning to swim at 7 years old in the local outdoor pool in her Wisconsin hometown. She started in summer league, following her older sister, Annie, and brother, Joe, to the pool.
“My mom actually signed me up as a way to wear me out because I was very energetic as a kid,” Drabot said. “I played soccer as well as other sports, but swimming was the only thing that made me tired at night. I loved it right away and never stopped.”
With her swimming future moving forward, Drabot is also looking ahead to her post-swimming career.
On the quarter system at Stanford, she’s currently taking a near full-load of classes to stay on track to graduate in four years.
Her favorite class is exercise physiology. which she knows will serve her well once she completes her degree in spring 2020 and starts applying to schools to study to be a physician’s assistant – the same profession her sister pursued.
“I have never wanted to be a doctor – although I did look into becoming a nurse practitioner – but I’ve always known I wanted to do be involved with healthcare and my sister really got me interested in becoming a PA,” she said.
“My strengths and interests have always been in math and science, so healthcare is a natural use for that knowledge and inclination.”
The program takes about 24 months including a year of residency. But for the time being, she’s more than content to focus on the swimming opportunities that lie ahead – namely her junior season at Stanford along with World Championships next summer and the Olympics in 2020.
With the graduation of a strong senior class and Katie Ledecky’s move to professional status shortly after NCAAs earlier this spring, Drabot said she knows the team lost a lot of talent.
But she knows that the Stanford program – which has won the past two NCAA team titles – has reached a level of reloading each year rather than rebuilding.
She’s excited to welcome an uber-talented freshman class and mentor them as she was mentored her freshman season.
Individually and on a National level, she said her recent success has given her confidence to know that if she continues improving, she’ll be a top contender in Omaha in less than two years when the next Olympic team is chosen.
It will be her third Olympic Trials – using the first one to gain experience in the big pool and the second as another step toward achieving her ultimate goal.
Now she knows she really can compete in the world’s biggest pools – and she’s excited to see what she can accomplish over the next couple of years as the Tokyo Games draw closer.
“I’m definitely starting to see myself more and more as a flier, but my first love will always be freestyle and I always want to improve in that, too,” Drabot said. “I think focusing on staying a freestyler will limit the pressure I feel in the butterfly and keep me swimming freely without giving in to any outside expectations.
“Still, it (becoming an Olympian) does feel more real than it did even a year ago. I know I’ve grown as an individual with each previous Trials, and when I swim again in Omaha in 2020, I’ll be more confident than ever to swim fast. I know how to compete on a big stage now, and that will definitely pay off next summer at Worlds and at Trials.”