By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, May 24, 2019
Much like the U.S. Postal Service, Isabelle Stadden doesn’t let rain, sleet or lots and lots of snow keep her from delivering.
Every day, she diligently makes the 45-minute drive to and from her home in Blaine, Minn., to the Aquajets Swim Team in Eden Prairie, no matter the weather – even through a rough, snowy winter this year.
And even though there are other clubs closer to her home, Stadden and her family chose the Aquajets because they know working with coach Kate Lundsten and her staff would elevate her swimming.
And it has. Not only is she a member of the U.S. National Team as a 16-year-old high school junior, but she’s also positioned to be one of the top competitors in the 100 and 200 backstroke events next summer at Olympic Trials.
Suffice it to say, it’s all a little surreal – and incredibly exciting – for Stadden. She’s definitely enjoying the ride.
“It’s not the most fun making that drive, especially in bad weather, but I know it’s the best thing for me,” said Stadden, a soon-to-be senior who chose the University of California-Berkeley as her future swim home in the fall of 2020.
“There have been times when it’s taken two hours or more to get there because of the weather, but it’s a drive I’m happy to make. Kate has had a lot of success with swimmers at the Aquajets, and we knew she would be good for me.”
Part of the reason Stadden’s success in the water is still somewhat surreal is that she’s only been swimming year-round for just over five years.
On top of that, it’s only been within the past year or so that she’s experienced sustained success at the senior level – finishing third in the 200 backstroke last summer in her first Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships.
Stadden isn’t quite sure of the exact reason she’s been experiencing so much success as of late outside of strong training and gaining racing experience, but she is happy to ride the wave.
Fresh off of a strong performance last weekend at the TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Bloomington, Ind., where she had two runner-up finishes in the 100 and 200 back, she’s excited for what’s still to come.
This spring, she’s scheduled to swim at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Clovis, as well as a few local meets in the Minneapolis area before she leaves for Lima, Peru, this summer to compete in the Pan American Games, her first senior-level international meet.
“I swam close to personal best times in all of my events in Bloomington, and it’s always fun to compete against Regan (Smith) and the rest of the girls in our events,” she said. “There are so many young swimmers in our events that we’ve become friends as well as competitors. We see these as natural but friendly rivalries that will be happening for many years.”
Those finishes came behind World Championship team member (and fellow teenager) Smith, who won all three backstroke events in Bloomington.
Just a year younger than Smith, Stadden said she knows she has some ground to make up on her friend and teammate, but, as a naturally competitive person in all walks of her life, she is up to the challenge.
“Regan is such a sweet person that it’s impossible to have anything but respect for her and what she’s accomplishing no matter how young she is,” Stadden said. “Knowing U.S. women’s backstroke events are so strong and so deep is exciting to me. I love competition, so this just motivates me more to want to keep getting faster and faster.”
Although she didn’t get her first Olympic Trials cut until 2017 – she didn’t start swimming competitively and year-round until she was 11, just five short years ago – Stadden said she is already looking forward to next year’s meet in Omaha.
Because she competed in several different sports for years before giving them up to focus on swimming in 2014, she said she never gave swimming at the Olympics a realistic thought.
“I honestly never knew swimming was as big of a sport as it is – that there are all of these meets, Junior and National teams, etc. – when I was younger,” said Stadden, who is planning to study engineering at Cal. “For me, it was always just a fun way to spend time with my friends.
“But once I started digging in and learning more about it, I started to realize what a big deal swimming is. That made me even more interested in wanting more out of it.”
But based on her results over the past year or so – which included a third-place finish in the 200 backstroke at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, a spot on her first U.S. National Team and a gold medal at last year’s Junior Pan Pacific Championships – Stadden is now starting to believe competing in the world’s biggest pool has real possibilities in the near future.
“I’ve gained so much big-meet experience over the past year or so, and I’ll have even more this summer at Pan Ams, so I am confident I’ll feel very prepared next year at Trials,” said Stadden.
“It will be my first Trials, so I’m sure it will be a lot to take in, but having swum at Junior Pan Pacs and this summer at Pan Ams, I know I’ll be well-prepared to compete at my best. In order to be in contention for a spot on the team, I know I’ll have to be.”