To the ever-increasing list of Internet claims that should not be believed, add this one: Rachel Bootsma would not make the final of the 100-yard butterfly at the NCAA women’s swimming championships.
“I was looking at all the social-media sites beforehand, and some were saying that,” said the Eden Prairie native and 2012 Olympian. “I was like, ‘Whatever.’ They can say what they want. I’ll just go out and do my best.”
The University of California freshman swam a personal-best time of 51.68 seconds at the NCAA meet in March, earning second place to send that cyber-prediction to the land of regrettable tweets. She also won her signature event, the 100 backstroke, with the second-fastest time in history. That continued a hot streak that began at the Olympic trials one year ago, when she first demonstrated the folly of underestimating her.
Bootsma surprised many by making the Olympic team in the 100-meter backstroke. After winning a gold medal as part of the 400 medley relay team at the London Games, she launched her college swimming career with a blockbuster freshman season. She won the Pacific-12 title in the 100 back in a meet-record time of 50.64 seconds and earned All-America status with her results at the NCAA meet, which also included second place in the 200 medley relay, third in the 400 medley and 400 free relays, fifth in the 200 freestyle relay and sixth in the 200 fly.
This week’s USA Swimming national championships — which serve as the trials for the 2013 world championships — are next on Bootsma’s agenda. She is entered in seven events, and this time, she will not be under anyone’s radar.
“I’m beyond ecstatic at the way things have gone,” said Bootsma, who is seeded second behind Missy Franklin in the 50- and 100-meter back at nationals. “A lot of swimmers go into their freshman year and it takes a while to adjust to the program. Their training is off, and they don’t perform as well as they hoped. To be able to swim best times multiple times during the season and win an NCAA individual championship, I’m very happy.”
Bootsma’s smooth transition to college delighted Cal coach Teri McKeever, who also coached her on the Olympic team. Her new regimen includes pool workouts every afternoon — with additional morning sessions four days a week — as well as weightlifting, spin classes and dance. Cal’s challenging academic environment increased her workload in the classroom as well.
She also had to adjust to being one prodigy among many, rather than the unchallenged star she had been in Minnesota. With the help of her teammates, Bootsma quickly learned to balance it all, and being part of a talented and highly competitive roster accelerated her ascent. McKeever lauded Bootsma for her adaptability, toughness and work ethic, as well as her ability to make other swimmers better.
“I’m really, really impressed with the way she’s handled herself,” McKeever said. “She came in and opened herself up to trying new things, and that speaks volumes about her. She’s made huge contributions to our program. And even though what she’s already done has been pretty spectacular, we’ve just tapped the surface.”
In December, Bootsma had surgery to repair an old wrist injury. Her performances at the NCAA meet — particularly in the 100 fly, where she was seeded eighth — bolstered McKeever’s belief that she can become a world-class competitor in events other than the 100 back.
She swam that race in 50.13 seconds to win the NCAA title, behind only Natalie Coughlin’s American record of 49.97. Her ambitions include breaking that mark, making the U.S. team for the upcoming world championships in Barcelona and training toward the 2016 Olympics. “Her events [at the national championships] are incredibly competitive,” McKeever said. “But we’ve seen at the Olympic trials, the Olympics and the NCAAs that she performs at her best when her best is required.”
Her very best, Bootsma believes, is yet to come.
“It still doesn’t seem that real to me,” Bootsma said. “You dream about having all of these accomplishments, and you hope they’ll come true, but you don’t really think everything can. I’ve been just so lucky to have so many of my dreams come true. It’s a pretty amazing feeling, but there’s a lot more I’m hoping to achieve.’’