Six-year-old Katie Olsen's first foray into competitive swimming was completely by accident.

That summer more than a decade ago, her mother, Sue, was looking to find a recreational team for Katie because she was like a little fish since she was 2 years old.

So Sue went to a pool in Ahwatukee Foothills and added Katie to the Sun Devil Aquatics, unaware that it was a competitive swimming club.

"I didn't know the difference between a club and a rec team," Sue said. "I thought I was signing her up for some summer class."

Katie didn't just hold her own with the other swimmers, she flourished. A natural in the water, she began winning meets immediately.

"She was phenomenal," Sue said, "Her coaches always said she would be a champion."

Olsen, now a senior on Desert Vista's swim team, hasn't slowed down since. Last year, she set a state record in the 100-meter breaststroke with a time of 1:00.68, and she added another state title in the 50-meter freestyle.

Nowadays, she squeezes in practices between weekend recruiting trips and her job working in a science lab. She recently visited North Carolina, and Olsen has both Arizona State and University of Arizona interested in her services.

"Balancing everything is hectic," Katie said, "but I'm used to it."

The Desert Vista swim team practices in the mornings before school, and she joins it two times a week. Her club team practices in the afternoon, and she does that, too.

She is excited to continue her career after this season.

"It's always been my goal to swim in college," Katie said. "It's been a motivational factor. It took until high school to know that I could."

The goal doesn't stop there. Katie has already registered an Olympic qualifying time in the 100-meter breaststroke, and she will compete for a spot on the team for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Her aspirations move far beyond the high school pool, but she relishes her last year with the Thunder.

"I love high school swim," Katie said.

And there's one last thing she wants to accomplish this season. While Katie set the state record in the 100-meter breaststroke, her goal was to finish in under a minute, missing the mark by less than seven-tenths of a second.

Between the recruiting trips, her job and school, Katie admits it's not the most ideal setup for her to challenge it as a senior. But she said that whether it is at state or junior nationals a little later in the year, she will accomplish her goal.

"I don't like to have a negative mindset," Katie said.

Sue is confident as well, because Katie has continually shown the ability to juggle swimming with other tasks.

After all, she's been doing it since she was 6.

"She's learned to manage her time very well," Sue said. "She has practice every day, and she continues to train. She's on target."

A version of this story was previously published in the East Valley Tribune.


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