By Ryan Kaczmarski
After finishing her senior swimming season at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., with 20 All-America honors as well as nine individual NCAA national championships, Rocky River native Claire Pavlak has the chance to eclipse all of her previous achievements. She has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb., this June, in the 50-meter freestyle, for the chance to secure a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic swimming and diving team.
“This is actually a little bit unbelievable,” Pavlak said. “I wasn’t even considering trying to get a spot (on the Olympic team), because you only swim 25 yards in college and you have to swim 50 meters to qualify for trials.
“I didn’t even think I was going to have the chance to qualify, but the day after our national meet they decided to let whoever was interested (do the) time trials,” she added. “So I just hopped up on the block, the morning after, and gave it a shot. I was pretty excited to see the qualifying time on the scoreboard when I was done.”
Pavlak, a graduate of Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, has been a member of the Emory swimming and diving team for four years, during which time the team won three NCAA national championships. Her 20 All-American honors are the second-most in Emory University history, and her nine national championships are the all-time record at Emory.
Her road to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials has been a lifelong pursuit.
“I started in the Rocky River summer league when I was 8 years old,” she said. “I liked that so much, I joined the Lakeshore Swim Club based at Rocky River High School, and I’ve been swimming (competitively) ever since then.”
Pavlak says her work ethic is the root of her success.
“I don’t know that I had a ton of natural ability, as I failed swimming lessons when I was little,” she said. “It was a lot of hard work, I think. Just putting in hours and hours every week, and I have always had a competitive drive, always wanting to improve my own times, and also beat everyone I was competing against.
“I think I’ve improved even more since I got to Emory, because of coaching,” she added. “We have some really great coaches (here). We have a great weight training coach, who has me focusing on a lot of power-work for the short sprints. I think everything has fit together for me here.”
At the NCAA Division III swimming and diving championships held in Indianapolis during the week of March 19, Pavlak was a part of three national-title-winning relays. She swam anchor leg on all three of the winning relays, helping the 200-yard medley relay to win with a time of 1:42.27, the 200-yard freestyle relay to a victory with a mark of 1:32.38 and the 400-yard freestyle relay to an event win with a school-record time of 3:22.02. She was also part of Emory’s All-America 400-yard medley relay team, which finished third with a time of 3:45.74.
She added individual All-America performances with a third-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 22.86 seconds in the preliminaries, and a fifth-place finish in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 50.74 seconds.
Pavlak totaled 68 of Emory’s 639 points, helping the team win its third-consecutive NCAA Division III championship, the fifth in the school’s history.