There’s a place where some people go to relax, others have birthday parties, and some find a thrill of swimming as fast as they can. They rush down the lanes trying to touch the wall before the person in the lane next to them does. Yes, that place is a pool. A pool that has been a part of some people’s lives since they were as young as six months old.
For California native Maddie Velez, swimming has been a lifestyle of hers for 21 years. The senior swimmer at the University of Utah has been swimming since before she could walk, and began to swim competitively when she was in elementary school.
“I was six months old when my parents first started putting me in lessons and classes,” Velez said. “I started competitively swimming when I was eight years old. I hate running so swimming was the perfect sport for me.”
Velez found a strong passion for swimming competitively. She went from lettering to becoming a scholar athlete, and she was a two-time all-league champion throughout high school. That journey brought her to the U, where she has spent her entire collegiate career.
In 2013-14 she recorded season bests at the Pac-12 Championship in the 200 free (1:53.22), the 500 free (4:59.59), and she placed 16th in the 1,650 free (16:57.18). In 2015-16, Velez recorded another season-best time in the 100 free as she touched in at :56.36 against Cal. At the Pac-12 Championship she took 38th in the 200 fly (2:07.05) and 35th in the 500 free (5:28.22). Finally, in the 2015-16 season Velez recorded several season-bests at the conference championships in the 200 (1:54.80) and 500 free (5:08.39).
“I wanted to come here and try to get best times and do my best,” Velez said. “My goal has always been to make the Pac-12 team. I came to the University of Utah to have a team to be supported by and have fun.”
Velez says that her teammates have motivated her every day to do her best, and they’re the ones who keep her going for the most part. When they’re outside of the pool cheering her on, she wants to perform well for them.
It’s not only her teammates who have been a big part of her support system. Head distance coach Michelle Lowry has helped shape Velez into the athlete she has always wanted to be over the past four years.
“My coach Michelle is really supportive,” Velez said. “I love her because she gives us all equal attention. A lot of coaches have favorites, but I love her because I feel like she truly cares about each and every one of the swimmers.” said Velez.
It’s a competitive swimming lifestyle she has loved since she was eight years old, but with the 2016-17 season slowly coming to a halt, the years of competitive swim meets will also come to an end for Velez.
“It’s going to be weird, because swimming is such a big part of my life and it always has been,” Velez said. “I’m definitely going to stay active, but that competitiveness [won’t be] there, but it’ll be fine.”
The water has always been Velez’s favorite place to be, and the love for the pool has never faded. Finishing out her final season, Velez has accomplished everything she could imagine, and although swimming made her a strong athlete, swimming has also helped Velez find herself.
“In general, I think it has helped me build character, and it’s helped me in a lot of with my time management,” Velez said. “It’s taught me to put in dedication and hard work and how to be a good teammate.”