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Swimming Always Returns to Koerckel

By Keith S. Greenawalt

Sixteen years of swimming can do a lot to and for a person.

Harvard senior swimmer Laura Koerckel should know. Koerckel's swimming career, which began when she was six, has taken her from pool to pool, from school to school and may have inadvertently led her to Europe and Asia.

Koerckel, who grew up in Andover, Mass., was drawn to the water at an early age.

"I always enjoyed being in the water during the summer," Koerckel says. "I loved the beach and just jumping off the diving board with my brother. Eventually, this progressed to the local swim teams. Everyone I knew was on them."

Those early local swim teams started an impressive competitive career.

Koerckel began to get comfortable with the idea of Harvard swimming when she was nine years old. She joined a Harvard-based swimming club called Bernal's Gator, a club headed by a former Harvard swim coach. Those years would provide the backbone for an impressive swimming pedigree.

High school took Koerckel out of the public school system and into Peddie Boarding School--an institution known for its student-athletes and its swimming program.

"Swimming became a real focus there," Koerckel says. "The training was very intense, and the competition was as well. We were the national high school champions for three years while I was there. Swimming was a year-round activity."

While she was certainly talented enough to attend one of the top swimming schools in the nation, Koerckel returned to Harvard to continue her swimming career.

"I wanted the opportunity to be a student athlete," Koerckel explains. "Most of the top swimming schools are scholarship-based. I wanted the freedom to not swim at school if I wanted to. That way I knew that if I was swimming, it would be because I love it."

Koerckel clearly made the right decision, as she has exercised that freedom while at Harvard. After a successful freshman season, she decided to take a year abroad and leave the school--and her swimming--for the first time in many years.

"I needed a break from the routine," she says. "Swimming and school had always gone together for me. I needed a change."

Koerckel made the most of her time off. Her travels took her to Nepal, Paris, Italy and Hong Kong, just to name a few. However, Koerckel's return to Harvard found her back in the pool.

"I definitely decided to be in the water and with the team," Koerckel says. "The sport and the people were so familiar to me. I have spent so much time with both of them."

"It was a safety net for me," she continues. "I had missed the first year in the houses, and I needed the routine to feel comfortable."

Koerckel's decision to return to the team is not surprising. However, her stellar performance upon that return was unexpectedly impressive.

"The time off didn't really effect my performance," Koerckel says. "I ran and walked during my time off to stay in shape, but I didn't swim. After the time off, I found that I really wanted to be back. I had no expectations for my performance, and that relaxed me and allowed me to perform at a high level."

Koerckel's performance since her return has helped Harvard to become a favorite in the Ivy League and for the Eastern Championships.

"I and everyone else have had a really good season so far. We are swimming really well," she says. "We have a small squad that makes every member important."

"I have become more versatile because of the nature of college swimming," Koerckel adds. "I swim different events for different meets. This season I have started racing the breast stroke. I had never done that before, but with the dynamics of the team, I had to."

The 23-year-old senior is an anthropology concentrator, but she is looking elsewhere for the future.

"I am thinking about going into sports management," Koerckel says, "I want to work with amateur athletics for a while, possibly with the NCAA. I am also thinking of working with for the Olympic Committee. The 2000 games are in Sydney, and my parents live in Sydney."

Swimming does not factor into her plans, as Koerckel plans to retire in February, but the value of her experience here has been enormous.

"It is great to be on the team and have that support," she says. "It has been an important part of my experience here at Harvard. It is a social experience that many people don't have the chance to be involved with."

The real question is whether Koerckel's retirement will be final or if it will prove to be only another short break from a labor of love.

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