Falling Into the Spotlight

  • By Eva Buchman
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  • March 12, 2013 04:40 PM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Falling into a pool when she was toddler probably wasn’t the way Rachael Burnett expected to discover her love for swimming. That one experience has proved to make all the difference for the Mountaineer All-American swimmer.

When Burnett reached high school, she really started to feel that she wanted to pursue swimming in her collegiate years. Finding West Virginia University, however, was a completely unique experience.

“I wanted to go south, maybe to an SEC school, but I came up here for a tour, just a regular student tour … and I fell in love with the school. I walked on the campus and I knew it was better than any of those SEC schools,” noted Burnett.

The immediate connection between herself, the coaches, and her teammates would seal the deal for Burnett. The Springfield, Va., resident got off to a hot start in Morgantown, compiling a list of accomplishments many people can only hope to achieve during their college career. From the minute she started competing collegiately, her hard work has paid off.

Burnett most recently added three individual titles to her collection (she owns nine individual conference titles counting Big East), and broke four records at the 2013 Big 12 Championships, taking the 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle, and 1650 freestyle. That success came as a surprise to Burnett, who was planning to use those events as a spring board to reach NCAA’s.

“I wasn’t really setting my goals at Big 12s, because my end goal is NCAAs, so I wasn’t expecting to do as well as I did. Once I did well on my first event, it just all carried over from there,” she said.

While Burnett may often surprise herself with the success she garners, one person who saw it coming is head coach Vic Riggs.

“She has an incredible desire to succeed, she has an incredible drive, she doesn’t like to fail, she doesn’t like to lose,” Riggs said. “Those things are in her mind every time she steps on the pool deck or in the weight room, and in the classroom.”

Now a senior, Rachael knows this will be her last time stepping on the starting blocks at NCAAs, and she’s made an all-out effort to leave everything on the table and train her hardest every day until nationals arrive. The toughest part, she says, is mentally preparing for such a big event. Her love of competition though, is what’s getting through the waiting game.

“I don’t stay relaxed,” joked Burnett. “Everyone on the team kind of knows that if I get really loud and hyper and nervous, then I’m ready to race.”

Despite her unique way of handling her nerves, they have allowed Rachael to see steady progression throughout her career at WVU, and Riggs knows she is capable of having a stellar NCAA performance.

“Every time you go to this meet, you’re hoping to perform better than the last time you went to the meet,” said Riggs.

“I think she’s in a good position. I think her head is in the right place, and I think, quite frankly, this has been a process for her, but she’s now five-six meets deep in competing against these other girls, and I do really believe she thinks she belongs there, and that’s half the battle.”

Even after NCAAs, Burnett still has more swimming ahead. She has qualified for the World Championship trials, which will take place in June in Indianapolis. Burnett qualified for World Championships last summer after her times at the Olympic Trials, and Rachael couldn’t be more excited.

“There’s a lot of things that I want to accomplish for myself, and my team, my parents, my coaches, so there is a lot of pressure, I think, but for me; that’s a good thing,” said Burnett.

With her time at WVU winding down, Burnett has worn the Old Gold and Blue with pride, and has given the swimming program everything she had. No matter where life takes her, Burnett said, she’ll be forever grateful for the education and opportunities West Virginia University has afforded her.

“It’s been a privilege representing the Mountaineers; I don’t think I’d be happy anywhere else, and I can’t believe it’s over,” noted Burnett.

Rachael will first take to the pool in Indianapolis on March 21 for the NCAA Championships, with the races lasting through Saturday, March 23rd. Rachael will then return to Indianapolis for the World Championship trials, June 25-29, in the same pool at the Indiana University Natatorium.

After her four years of preparation, her familiarity with competing on the national stage will provide Rachael with even more much-deserved success and put the world on notice.