Northport’s Chloe Stepanek developed her love for swimming when she was just 6 years old, watching Michael Phelps win eight gold medals during the 2008 Beijing Olympic games.
“I want to do that,” Stepanek said to her mother, while looking at the television.
Little did Stepanek know that 10 years later, she would be competing in the same pool as an Olympic gold medalist.
Stepanek, a junior on the combined Commack/Northport girls swimming team, earned an opportunity to participate in the Phillips 66 National Championships at the William Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine, California at the end of July. The event featured a plethora of the top swimmers in the country, including Olympians Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin.
As she begins this varsity swim season, Stepanek is looking to use her experience from the summer to help improve her times, sharpen her turns, become a physically stronger swimmer and repeat as state champion in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events.
The 2017 Newsday Long Island Swimmer of the Year qualified for Nationals by swimming 56.32 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle finals at the N.J. Berkeley Aquatic Club Memorial Day Meet on May 26 in Piscataway, New Jersey with her Long Island Aquatic club team.
In her preliminary 100-meter freestyle heat at Nationals on July 25, Stepanek swam 56.64. She was in lane one, and Franklin, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, was in lane eight.
“It was crazy, I was swimming alongside some of the best swimmers in the country,” Stepanek said. “I think there were some things that I could have done better, but overall it was really a great experience, and I was honored that I had the opportunity to compete.”
The fifth-ranked junior in the state, according to CollegeSwimming.com, didn’t make it to the championships by mistake.
She earned it.
A typical day for Stepanek during the high school swim season begins by waking at 5 a.m. for varsity practice from 6-7 a.m. She then returns home and prepares for school. After school, Stepanek heads to practice with her club team for two hours or so. Two nights during the week, she has weight training, and sometimes doesn’t arrive back home until around 9 p.m. . . . in time to do some homework.
“When I was swimming at the state meet last year, and at Nationals this summer, it was a reminder that hard work pays off, and that all the long days are worth it,” Stepanek said. “I know that there are a lot of talented swimmers on Long Island and everybody wants to win. Plenty of people are working hard, and I try to remember that someone is always training hard, and I have to train harder to try and beat them.”
One of those talented swimmers is Lauryn Johnson of Sacred Heart. Like Stepanek, Johnson swims year-round with the Long Island Aquatic club team.
Johnson was Newsday’s Nassau Swimmer of the Year after her strong performance at the state championships last fall.
The senior and UCLA commit, took second in the 500-yard freestyle and finished third in the 100 butterfly. Johnson was also a part of Sacred Heart’s third-place 200 freestyle relay team, and swam the anchor leg of the winning 400 free relay.
“She has been really dedicated to the sport,” Sacred Heart coach Mary White said. “Last year her mechanics were improved, and she was much more relaxed and confident as a swimmer.”
Joan Cash, Sacred Heart, So.
Cash was an important part of the winning 400-free relay team (3:32.25) and the third-place 200-free relay team at the state championships last year. She also finished third in the 50-free (23.68) and fourth in the 100-free (51.51).
Briana Gellineau, St. Anthony’s, Jr.
Gellineau finished third in the 200-yard freestyle (1:52.07) and sixth in the 500-free (5:00.10) at the state championships. She was also a member of St. Anthony's third-place 400-free relay (3:32.77) team.
Lauryn Johnson, Sacred Heart, Sr.
The senior took second in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:52.24 and finished third in the 100-butterfly in a time of 55.22 at the 2017 state championships at Ithaca College. Johnson was also a part of the third-place 200-free relay (1:37.09) and helped Sacred Heart win the 400-free relay (3:32.25).
Catherine Stanford, Oceanside, Jr.
Stanford was fourth in the 50-yard freestyle (23.84) and fifth in the 100-free (51.66) at the state championships. She won the Nassau county championship in both events.
Chloe Stepanek, Northport, Jr.
The Northport sophomore, who swims for the combined Commack/Northport squad, won state titles in both the 100-yard (49.93) and 200-yard freestyles (1:47.63) last season. She also won the 500-yard freestyle at the Suffolk championships (5:01.53), which was a county record.