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How a former DI hockey commit became an Olympic swimming finalist in less than two years

How a former DI hockey commit became an Olympic swimming finalist in less than two years
How a former DI hockey commit became an Olympic swimming finalist in less than two years

 


INDIANAPOLIS, IN As the finalists for the women's 100 breaststroke walked out at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials, their performances were read aloud one by one.

World record holder, Lilly King. Olympic gold medalist, Lydia Jacoby. Olympic medalist, Alex Walsh. NCAA Champion, Kaitlyn Dobler. NCAA all-American, Ella Nelson. NCAA all-American, Kaelyn Gridley. NCAA all-American, Emma WebR.

And then there was McKenzie Siroky, who was introduced as a Michigan High School state champion, still an impressive feat, but far from the national or international accolades of her competitors. What was not it was announced that Siroky has only been swimming full-time for a year, and that just two years ago she was committed to playing Division I hockey for a program with five national championships. At that time, King was the only swimmer she was knew about (“I actually have no idea about swimming…the only person I knew did Lilly King because someone told me she won the breaststroke at the Olympics, 'Siroky said to SwimSwam in 2021), and now she was competing against her.

But meetings are not won on the basis of resumes. And Siroky was still at the top, competing with swimmers far more decorated than her, with an equal chance as anyone for the top two spots on the Paris Olympic team.

“I'm not the most experienced guy in the pool right now,” Siroky said. “But I will definitely be the most competitive. When I jump into that water, I'm racing. I'm ready. It's time to go.”

Siroky finished in seventh place with a personal best of 1:07.71, her third best time in three rounds of racing. As she describes her result, “It's not Paris,” but it was a flash of potential that showed how good she could be.

The reality is that the swim was just Siroky's warm-up. She's only just started and the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles are already on her mind.

“Give me four years of study and a little more training throughout the year, and I'll be back, I promise.” Siroky said.

The carrots

As Siroky descended the steps next to the team entrance to Lucas Oil Stadium, she was met with cheers from a crowd in blue shirts emblazoned with “Team Siroky” in large, bold letters. This crowd consisted of more than 60 of Siroky's family members and friends, who came from Livonia, Michigan to support their local celebrity.

As Siroky took photos with young children and was swarmed by supporters, her father, Pete Siroky, stood beaming to the side. His daughter's life had been a whirlwind of change over the past two years, but he was a little less surprised than most about her new reality.

For most of McKenzie Siroky's life, she was a hockey player first and a swimmer second. Her three older brothers practiced the sport and she followed them from an early age. She became one of the top youth hockey players in the country, competing on the boys' varsity team at Livona Stevenson High School. In her freshman year of high school, she committed to play for the University of Minnesota Duluth and considered making the U.S. U18 roster for the 2022 International Hockey Federation World Championships, although she did not make the finals.

“We talked about hockey being her main sport in eighth grade, and it was going to be,” said Gregg Phil, Siroky's high school swimming coach.

But in the background, swimming was also the driving force behind McKenzie Siroky's life. Her mother, Michele Ann Siroky, swam at Stevenson High and Michigan State and was previously an assistant under Phil at Stevenson. She was the one who first introduced her daughter to the sport when she was three. Michel Ann dead due to brain cancer in 2017, when McKenzie was 12 years old, but her impact lived on.

McKenzie Siroky then continued swimming in high school and summer competition, winning three Michigan high school state titles in the 100 breast and breaking the state record twice. Before meeting the state championships during her senior year, she set a goal to break one minute in the event she ran 1:00.07, missing by less than a tenth.

It was that moment when Siroky realized she wasn't ready to give up swimming. There was still so much unanswered about her potential, and she didn't want to miss the 'what if' questions.

“I just looked at that 0.07 and it didn't dawn on me. After my meeting I thought, 'I'm not ready yet. Something isn't right,” Siroky said. “A few days later I knew that my swimming career was not over yet. I wasn't ready to drop it yet.”

“I love number seven, I'm one of seven in my family and ironically I've just come seventh in competitions. I think that had a lot to do with it [with my decision.]…I think my transition to swimming was meant to be.”

In February 2023, Siroky officially decided to give up her future in hockey to pursue the unknowns of swimming, committing to swim at the University of Tennessee in the fall of 2024. She also chose to take a gap year to qualify for Olympic trials, training and training. for the first time all year with her life next to Phil.

Siroky's choice was seemingly guided by numbers, but then again, she wasn't the only one who believed in fate, just like her father.

“I knew it was something that was in her heart, that [McKenzie] wanted to do,” Pete Siroky said about swimming. “I knew she would do everything she could to do it. Whatever she would do, she would do it to the best of her ability.”

Turn up the volume

When McKenzie Siroky started her gap year, Phil wanted to work on her aerobic endurance, something he believes can only be built with experience. It was also important for her to further refine her technique. Her greatest weaknesses all stemmed from the fact that she didn't swim enough a luxury she couldn't afford when she played hockey.

“One thing that has really helped me in practice is learning to pace myself and do certain intervals,” Siroky said. “That really helped me grow.”

“I'm just really excited when I get to Tennessee to continue a little more with the development and the little details that can give me an advantage for my goals.”

However, Siroky did not start her full-time swimming careerabsolutelyempty handed. Her experience in hockey helped her gain the lower body strength necessary for side kicking the breaststroke, and her accumulated hours in the gym gave her the physical strength a sprinter needed.

In other words, hockey turned Siroky into a natural breaststroker.

“[Hockey] is one of the main reasons why breaststroke is more natural than other strokes,” Siroky said. “It's that same force and movement and step and push.”

Prior to her gap year, Siroky had never touched a long-course pool. And yet, in her very first long course race in August 2023, she clocked a time of 1:09.14, earning her an Olympic qualification. She continued to improve over the next 10 months, eventually reaching the 1:07 range in March 2024.

It was around that time that both Siroky and Phil realized that the Olympic Trials final was tangible. They both made sure they achieved her goal, but neither of them knew it.

“I'm happy about it [finaling] was her goal,” Phil said. 'It was my goal, but I didn't tell her that. I didn't want to put that extra pressure. I thought she had a chance to make it to the final… and it all worked out.”

And there Siroky stood, 17 months after fully committing to swimming, alongside seven of the fastest women in America in front of thousands of fans and just one race away from the Olympics. She crossed herself, pointed to the ceiling in honor of her mother, and stood on the blocks, ready to show the nation what she was now capable of, and what she was capable of.could bepossible in the future.

It took her 18 years to realize it, but Michele Ann Siroky's daughter would always be a swimmer. And she became a very good woman, carrying her mother's legacy with her every step of the way.

“She would just be very proud,” McKenzie Siroky said of how her mother would feel about her career today. 'I know she was with me at the time [trials] race…[I told her] “This is us, we have this, we're going to race this.” Every time I'm racing, she's now racing next to me and with me.

Sources

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2/ https://swimswam.com/how-a-di-hockey-commit-became-an-olympic-swimming-trials-finalist-in-under-two-years/

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