Senior season for Illini swimmer Serniute coming together


Photo courtesy of Kevin Cole

Gabriele Serniute competes for the swimming and diving team in a breaststroke race. The senior is putting together one of her best seasons so far.

By Gabby Vazquez, Staff writer

Illinois swimmer Gabriele Serniute believes inspiration comes from just about anything, but it presents itself in different ways.

The senior can attest to this herself.

The Lithuania native started swimming at age 9. Her father was watching swimming on the television one day and told Serniute he wanted her to pick up the sport. According to Serniute, her parents are the two people who have inspired her most throughout her life.

Soon after she started taking swim lessons in Lithuania, the Serniute family moved to the U.S. She kept up with swimming and competed on the Downers Grove North girls’ swim team. Before Illinois, Serniute was a four-time IHSA State Qualifier and also qualified for the NSCA Junior Nationals in addition to qualifying for the USA Swimming Winter National.

When it came time to pursue the sport at the next level, Serniute had a lot of options to choose from, but Illinois stuck out.

“I came to visit, and right away, I knew that this was where I belonged,” Serniute said. “The academics and athletics are ranked so high, and the location is pretty close to home for me. I walked around campus, and it all just made sense to me. I knew I had to be here.”

Serniute is majoring in English with a minor in political science, and although she is not sure what she wants to do after graduation, she’s looking to further her academic career. She won’t be giving up swimming completely but doesn’t think she’ll be competing nearly as much once she graduates.

Serniute competed in the USA Winter Nationals this past weekend. She qualified for the meet with a time of 1:02.40 in the 100-meter breaststroke, but her preliminary time was 1:17.04. She was proud of her performance at the competition and felt it was her most memorable competition as a swimmer as an Illini.

“There were a couple Olympians at the competition, and it was beyond inspiring, being able to compete with them watching,” Serniute said.

Being a student-athlete has provided Serniute with an abundance of knowledge and improved her professional and social skills. She said she’s learned to balance her school work with practice, lifting and meets. In the offseason, the team still has weekly practices and lifting, but it’s not nearly as intense as it is during the season. Hardly a moment goes by when she is outside the pool.

“The coolest thing about being a student-athlete is walking around representing the University,” Serniute said. “The athletes, myself included, feel so proud to be here and are so (grateful) for being able to play the sport we love at such a high level.”

In addition to swimming, self-care is crucial for Serniute. She spends the majority of her downtime reading — her favorite book is “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens — and when she gets the time to go home, Serniute spends a great deal of time with her 13-year-old sister.

“I don’t see her a lot,” Serniute said. “So when I do go home, she’s my favorite person to be around.”

When she doesn’t swim at the level she is capable of, she takes little bits and pieces from her meets and focuses on each of them separately.

“You just have to trust the process and take one day at a time,” Serniute said.

As her time at Illinois winds down, Serniute said she wants other athletes to learn from both their successes and failures, just as she did as an Illini.

“Use what you’re good at, and work extra hard at it,”  Serniute said. “Take advantage of every opportunity to learn from others, and that’s how you’ll get better.”

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