Freshman swimmer makes impact in first year

The transition into college life has not fazed Gabbie Stecker, who has emerged as one of the Illinois swim team’s leaders during her freshman year.

“She’s stepping up,” junior Alison Meng said. “She’s leading the team and is a great role model for everyone on the team.”

For Stecker, Illinois made an impression on her right away. An Illini coach was the first college coach to approach her about a collegiate swimming career, and it didn’t take long into the recruiting process for her to decide Illinois was the school she wanted. She knew Illinois would be a family where she could be happy and would be able to call home.

The summer of 2012 was when Illinois head coach Sue Novitsky first witnessed the Bettendorf, Iowa, native race. Stecker was competing with her club team, and Novitsky was impressed with her turns and desire to win. Stecker’s dedication to both academics and athletics was the deciding factor, as Novitsky felt this was what represented the University well.

Though Stecker’s transition into college swimming has been mostly smooth, there were some speed bumps in the beginning. There was the struggle of getting used to different training routines, such as the weight room. When it came to swimming at practice or meets, though, she had to have a different mindset.

“At the college level, a lot is expected from you,” Stecker said. “You are expected to compete in every race you swim.”

Although she has viewed this transition as a challenge, her teammates are impressed with how well she has handled it.

“She’s responded the best to the transition to college than anyone I’ve ever seen,” senior Courtney Pope said. “She’s been able to make the adjustments that many others are not able to make and that is needed in college swimming.”

At this point in the season, Stecker has already won 10 individual events, scored 25 times and has contributed 7 percent of the team’s total points in the season. At the Jan. 17 meet against Iowa State, she won three times in three different strokes. But her achievements so far in her freshman year are not enough for Stecker.

What distinguishes Stecker from other swimmers is her drive to win, consistent work ethic and her focus on improving as a swimmer. At practice, when a coach instructs Stecker to change something in her stroke or turn, she will make the adjustment quickly and hold on to it.

“Practice helps me focus on the racing aspect,” Stecker said. “Every time we do something in practice, it means something.”

Stecker has the need to beat everyone, no matter what the challenge is. In the pool, she swims her best to touch the wall first; while in the weight room, she will work hard to beat anyone in a competition.

“It’s so fun to watch her swim,” Pope said. “You know that if it’s a close race, Gabbie is going to give it her all to get to the wall first.”

Although Stecker isn’t a vocal leader, she leads by example. She keeps a positive attitude and cheers for her team in every race. Her ability to swim many different strokes at a high level motivates others on the team to work as hard and reach the same type of success.

Stecker knows there is always room to improve. There will be much more time spent in the weight room, as she wants to improve on her strength. She will also work on dropping time during her races by working on both kicks and turns. But if she holds on to her concrete work ethic, her goal of making the NCAA cuts may one day be crossed off her list.

“All I have to do is stay focused and work as hard as I can,” Stecker said. “All I can ever do is give 100 percent.” 

Michal can be reached at [email protected] and @bennythebull94.