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Women’s Swimming and Diving: Kuhlke to lead team by example

Katherine Mack | Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Senior Kellyn Kuhlke said her swimming career has been defined by three key elements: dedication, a strong work ethic and an undying commitment that has been a part of her since she first jumped in the pool.

Kuhlke said her interest in the sport stemmed from watching a cousin get involved in their younger days. Once her competitive nature kicked in, she was hooked.

“My cousin swam when she was younger, and I wanted to start swimming after I saw her get involved with it,” Kuhlke said. “I continued to swim because I got competitive and made my best friends doing it.”

Kuhlke’s career advanced in high school, where she wasted no time in making a name for herself. In her freshman season, she earned All-State honors as well as an All-American title, awards she continued to earn in each of her following three seasons. Kuhlke went on to earn the All-American title 10 times in her four years at her Plano, Texas, high school. As she continued to lead in the pool, Kuhlke grew into a team leader and was captain in her senior season while earning the title of state champion. Kuhlke also was a finalist at Nationals, qualifying her for the U.S. Olympic Trials in butterfly during high school.

Her success in the water came to a halt three years ago when a shoulder injury kept her out of the pool for most of her freshman season. Although she managed to swim in two events for the Irish as well as in the U.S. Trials, Kuhlke was forced to undergo surgery and stay away from the pool.

“I had a shoulder surgery to clean up a lot of damage from overuse. I was completely out of the water for about two months,” she said. “At that time I could only kick. I started swimming again about 5 1/2 months after surgery. I had to do rehab exercises every day and a lot of work outside of the pool to stay in the best shape possible.”

While recovering, Kuhlke said she continued to bond with her teammates and supported them as best she could from the deck. Her undying commitment to the team earned Kuhlke the support and respect of all her teammates, who all worked to help her get back to what she loved to do.

“The support from my teammates was huge because I never envisioned having to deal with such a big event a few months into freshman year,” she said. “My athletic trainers and strength coach also helped me get through the process because I spent a lot of quality time with them.”

Since recovering from her injury, Kuhlke has been a major contributor and leader on the Irish squad, earning All-Big East honors in each of the last two seasons. She currently holds a program record in the 100-meter butterfly and has contributed to school records in the 200- and 400-meter medley relays. Kuhlke’s performance in the water has aided the success of the Irish squad, which has won its 13th and 14th consecutive Big East titles the last two years.

Kuhlke credits her teammates and coaches for her success in the pool and her contributions in helping the Irish win.

“[My teammates] are my best friends and definitely make putting in long hours at the pool more enjoyable,” she said. “Also being surrounded by people that expect the best from themselves, as well as me, always challenged me to do better. I also have to credit both my club coach at home and my coaches here at Notre Dame. Their enthusiasm for the sport is contagious.”

With her senior season underway, Kuhlke sees great potential in her team to raise the bar even higher in terms of the success of the Irish squad.

“We are definitely focused on being an NCAA team rather than just a conference team,” Kuhlke said. “We have taken great strides in accomplishing this, but we aren’t completely there yet. Seeing my teammates step up day in and day out to reach our goals has been huge.”

As co-captain of the Notre Dame squad this season, Kuhlke said she would continue to work hard and set an example for her team while staying aware of what needs to happen for the Irish to achieve even more this season.

“Our team is focused on getting the little things right throughout the entire season, in preparation for championship season,” Kuhlke said. “We want to continue to develop an environment of accountability and enthusiasm to partner with all of the hard work we put in every day. This year is a total team effort and we’re all working together to achieve our goals.”