Kelsi Worrell Swims for a Purpose

Last summer, I interned with The Courier Journal in Kentucky. One of my clips did not get published. But I wanted to share that article here.  

Kelsi Worrell knows when she steps onto the blocks and hears the buzzer, it’s time to make every stroke, breath and kick count. The New Jersey girl said she never imagined she would have moved up in the ranks on University of Louisville swim team let alone have the chance to swim in the 100-meter butterfly at the Olympics.

“It’s really special, I didn’t come here for that , I came hopefully to be part of the bottom and be pushed and it end up happening very differently, I’m hoping to leave a positive impact on the team and to be known outside of the pool too,” Worrell said earlier this month in a press conference.

“It’s an honor to have competed here for four years, it’s the best school in the world.”

Worrell’s work ethic has driven not only her own success but that of her teammates. Teammates said they are motivated to improve when they witness her do well during a set.

“[Were] such a tight unit, a great atmosphere, that is positive, we just want to keep getting better,” Worrell said.Worrell’s best friend on the team, Tanja Kylliainen, will be swimming for Finland in the 200 individual medley and 400 individual medley in the Olympics.

Getting to that point has been challenging for the swimmer in order to make the cut. Kylliainen  still remembers competing at the Arena Pro Series in Indianapolis in order to qualify.

“I’ve been trying for months and months and kept missing it, it was so close and when I finally made that I could share that with all my teammates who pushed me to that point and all my coaches were there, it was special,” Kylliainen said.

But the part that made the whole event even more special was having Worrell there, she said.

“I remember I collapsed to my knees to the floor when I got out of the pool and she was there who picked me up and hugged me and we cried together and I wish I was there for that moment with her.”

Worrell came into the U of L program while Kylliainen was a sophomore, and right away Worrell gave her a different perspective on the sport.

“She’s helped me in so many ways, she’s one of my best friends … she taught me a lot on who to be and how to lead and how to be a better teammate;”  Kylliainen  said.

NCAA Swimming: Division I Swimming and Diving-Championships
“Kelsi Worrell hugs teammate Tanja Kylliainen after winning the 200 butterfly during NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving-Championships at Greensboro Aquatic Center. Mandatory Credit: Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports”

Over the last couple of months Worrell’s life has changed. She’s more in the public eye than ever, she is seeing herself on television, and people are asking to take photos or for autographs, she said.

Louisville swim coach Arthur Albiero suggested keeping things simple would be the best way for Worrell to adjust.

“I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks is being her body guard, ” he said. “… I’ve been trying to figure out as a coach what I can do to help and  empower her and not over do it.”

In the lead-up to the U.S. trials, Worrell and Albiero never talked about placing or her time.

“We never talked about winning, we never talked about really making the team, we talked about execution,” he said.

The Olympics will be a moment where the seven swimmers will represent their countries in a positive way, he said.  Albiero is proud to be teaching these talented swimmers but its not the time to be emotional but to keep working and improve in the next upcoming weeks.

” The U.S. trials is a completely different beast, you talk about tension, pressure and emotion and careers being made and careers being broken all right there in the same spot,” he said.

The trials were a major test for Worrell, but the Olympics will be on an another level, Albiero said. Worrell has a flexible mentality that will help because there’s so many variables that she can’t control in Rio, he said. Albiero still stands by his motto: “She will have a lane and she will have a chance.”

Although there is a lot of pressure on Worrell, while shes in the middle of the event she tries to relax by singing to a fast beat song to get her tempo up or sings “Jesus loves me,” she said.

The biggest advice she gives to incoming freshmen is that don’t make swimming your main thing that you have to have something outside of the pool, also to eat healthy but its okay to have cheat days. For Worrell she likes to bake, face time, or even catch up on a couple of shows on Netflix.

” One day at a time, focus on the little things, I think that’s what made me better along the way from being consistent inside the pool,” she said. Worrell has came a long way as a student athlete but the Olympics will tell if her career will either be made or break.

” I still think I need to get a little bit better  I think for that, it will take a world record to [reach] Sarah in the event but that’s the hope,” Worrell said.

“It will be incredible to win for the U.S.  to see the national anthem play and the flag being raised.”

Reporter Allana Barefield can be reached at abarefield@gannett.com or 502-582-4496.

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