HARTINGTON — A childhood dream is now over, but new dreams are just beginning to take shape for Anne Stefanec.
Not many people stick with their dream at the age of five of what they want to be when they grow up. If that were the case, there would be an overwhelming amount of superheroes and princesses in the world today.
Anne Stefanec is different.
Ever since she was five years old, when Stefanec joined her first swim team, she has been doing what she loves best: competitive swimming.
Stefanec, the daughter of Hartington native Mary Jean (Wortmann) and Dick Stefanec, finished her swimming career on a high point last week in Omaha, competing on the national stage at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Stefanec swam in the eighth of 17 heats in the 100-meter backstroke last Tuesday morning, placing fifth with a time of 1:04.5.
Growing up, swimming was a part of Anne’s life nearly from the start.
At the age of 18 months, her mother Mary Jean took Stefanec to a ‘Mommy and Me’ swim class.
“She loved it,” her mother said. “She had so much fun splashing around in the water.”
A few short years later Stefanec joined the swim team. Twenty-five meters was a long way for a little five-year-old to swim, but she made it.
Mary Jean said from that point forward, swimming has taken Stefanec and the rest of her family on an unforgettable journey.
Throughout her early swimming career, Stefanec had many days starting at 5 a.m., when she headed to the pool for swim team practice, slowly perfecting and working toward the best race she could perform.
“I remember being eight years old and telling my coach that I would make the Olympics one day. Even as a young kid, I knew where I wanted swimming to take me,” she said.
In order to take her swimming to the next level, Stefanec made sure to work hard, be dedicated, and have support from her family to supplement her natural talent in the pool.
“Swimming is the most difficult sport, in my eyes. You wake up earlier than most athletes and train harder and longer. You have to be truly dedicated to the sport to continue to succeed.”
When Stefanec entered high school, and with it, varsity swim competition, the bright future the sport could hold for her began to show.
She was offered a scholarship to swim at UCLA, and she took the incredible opportunity and even showed the dedication necessary to succeed in the sport.
“During my sophomore year, I broke my back. Recovering from that was motivation enough for me to get back on track and become a better swimmer than I thought possible.”
Healthy and competing again, Anne headed back into the pool and it was there, swimming for UCLA at Los Angeles Invitational that she qualified for the Trials in the 100-meter backstroke.
She then had her entire swimming career to cite as preparation.
“Before coming to college, my coaches, Jeff Thornton and Stacy Smith, were incredible leaders and role models. They gave me a start so when I was in college I was surrounded by 30 girls who had my same goals, it was easy to flourish.”
When she found out the Trials would be held in Omaha, Stefanec was so excited to have the opportunity to compete in Nebraska where she could have the support of her family.
“It was so fitting that my career ‘ended’ in Omaha, in front of my grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents and sister. To have that kind of love and support at Olympic Trials made me feel like I was the luckiest swimmer on deck.”
Last Tuesday morning, Stefanec definitely felt the nerves, but she channeled it to excitement.
“I was able to walk into Olympic Trials with my head held high, confident in my training and my positive thoughts,” she said.
Watching intently from the stands, her mother could feel her daughter’s excitement pumping through her body.
“It was an incredible experience,” she said. “I could feel her nerves and when she dived in, it was just, wow. I wanted to watch every stroke she made, every breath she took, every splash she made because I kind of knew this would be her last one.”
One minute and 4.5 seconds later, the race was done and Stefanec had achieved her goal of competing at the Olympic Trials.
Now that the Trials are over, Stefanec has decided to take a break from swimming, study for the LSATs, and go to law school.
However, that doesn’t mean the pool is leaving her life. Starting in January, Stefanec will be taking over as the head coach of the swim team for a high school in Calabasas, Calif.
“I am officially retired — for the time being. Swimming has been such an important part of my life, I don’t know if I’m ready to give it up forever.”
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