Taylor Petrak’s greatest challenge, being a swimmer in a school without a team or pool, became her strength and motivation.
Petrak, a sophomore at Lincoln High School, won the 50 yard freestyle last Wednesday at the PIAA competition at Bucknell University. With a time of 23.62 seconds, she tied her WPIAL record and beat the second place finisher by roughly .4 seconds, a sizable difference in a short-distance event.
Petrak placed third in the 100 yard freestyle and had the satisfaction of achieving a new personal record of 51.23. Rather than allow her status as Ellwood’s sole swimmer be an obstacle, she used it as an advantage.
“I’m more focused on my own technique and goals,” she said, adding, “Sometimes it seems a lot of fun to be in relays.”
In order to compete at meets, Petrak has to secure permission from the hosting school. She typically doesn’t know which event she’ll be doing until the day of the meet, as she fills in where there are open lanes.
“It’s good to be versatile,” Petrak said. “And colleges look for that in athletes as well.”
Petrak has been swimming since she was five and is a member of the Riverside Aqua Club of Ellwood City, which has the members of the Riverside swimming team. She can train with them in the off season, however a WPIAL rule prohibits her from training with a team during the season. Instead, she uses the pool when the younger club members swim.
She trains with the Aqua Club coaches, Gwen Nulph, Eric Rosendale and Bill Valli, who is also Riverside’s coach. WPIAL regulations require her to have an official representative, a role which her mother, Patty Petrak, fills.
The Aqua Club, part of a national organization, not only gives Petrak a swimming family but a more diverse field of competition and events. The longest race in high school swimming is the 500, but club races have 1000 and 1600 events. It is also an opportunity to compete against AAA athletes.
To be a state champion requires all year, consistent training. Petrak swims every day and does strength cross training in the summer. She competed at states as a freshman, giving her valuable experience. There’s also luck involved.
Her top competition, Emily Zimcosky of Geibel Catholic School, who beat Petrak by a half a second and won WPIALs, scratched the event at the PIAA.
“You can’t control the competition, just yourself,” Petrak said. For the future, Petrak is hoping to continue to improve her times and compete through the Aqua Club. As for claiming another gold, she said, “Winning is always great, especially at the state level.”
She also plans on increasing her cross training, and runs track, her main event being the hurdles. Although it’s two years off, on college, Petrak said, “I’m looking forward to being on a team at the college level.”