In life, we all have to overcome obstacles. No two people know that better than Tracy Duchac and Christine Leupold. Both student-athletes are members of the Purdue women's swimming and diving squad and have each faced adversity and come out on top.
Duchac and Leupold are two of seven seniors that help anchor a young Boilermaker team featuring 26 underclassmen. But as if to discount the belief that age equates to one's maturity level, both point out that the freshman and sophomores have proven themselves.
"They are very mature," said Duchac. "A lot of them have already been in big meets, so they know how to handle themselves. That's not to say they don't ask questions about what the Big Ten and NCAA Championships are going to be like. They want to be prepared and know what they're going to face."
Christine agrees that as seniors, they don't necessarily have to guide the underclassmen, rather just prepare them for the pressures of the championship meets by telling them what they can expect.
According to Tracy, a benefit to having a young team is that the seniors have the opportunity to feed off the excitement of the underclassmen.
"As seniors, we've been through this before," she said. "It's great being able to see things through their eyes, because it makes it feel like we're experiencing it for the first time all over again."
And though both Tracy and Christine look ahead to the Big Ten and NCAA Championships, they also recount some difficult times and how they are stronger for having gone through them.
During Christine's freshman year, it was discovered that she had a deficiency in her heart. She admits that it was a difficult time to get through both mentally and physically. Her health problems were inhibiting her ability to practice and she understood that it was a very real possibility her doctors could advise her to stop swimming.
"It made me stop and think, and for a while I questioned why I was swimming," she said. "But I came to the conclusion that I love swimming and like being a part of the team. And it was the team that backed and motivated me the entire time."
She acknowledges the frustration she felt as a result of not performing at the level she knew she was capable of. But through it all, it was a learning experience.
"I learned a lot about my body, like what it could handle and when it's time to seek medical attention," Leupold said. "It's all about taking control and understanding that what you do to your body is solely up to you."
According to Christine, her greatest accomplishment is that she didn't quit.
"My first year was tough and that even carried over into my sophomore season," she said. "But I stuck with it. I'm not the type of person to quit - I stayed true to my heart."
Tracy also knows what it's like to face challenges, though for her, it wasn't in the pool. Her challenge was in the classroom. She was in third grade when it was identified that she had a learning disability. She admits that her first year was overwhelming as she made the transition from high school to college. Consequently, her grades weren't where she wanted them to be.
"I think it's difficult for a lot of people to take that first step and ask for help, but once I jumped that hurdle and started using the resources available to me, things improved," she said.
When asked to consider her greatest accomplishment, she responded without hesitation - Academic All-America - as she was named a College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Academic All-American and Academic All-Big Ten in 2003-04.
"It felt great to be rewarded for my efforts in the classroom and not just for what I accomplish in the pool," she added.
As seniors, Tracy and Christine see their roles on the team as being fairly straight forward. Both want to lead through their actions. It's a "no frills" type attitude. According to Tracy, it's all about just getting in the pool and getting the job done. And that's exactly what they've done.
In the latest College Quick 50 (1/19/05) sheet provided by Taper & Shave, both Christine and Tracy are tied for 18th place with Arizona's Marshi Smith in the 50 free (23.11), while Christine also makes the list in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events. Additionally, Christine and Tracy are members of the 200-yard freestyle relay team that currently boasts the third fastest time in the nation at 1:31.85.
Looking ahead to the Big Ten Championships, both student-athletes mentioned the goals the team established for itself at the start of the season.
"This year should be a great opportunity for us and we hope everything can come together," Tracy said. "The Big Ten is a strong Conference and we're looking to place third or fourth at the Championships."
Christine added that she feels the depth of the team should help. And looking ahead to the NCAA meet hosted by Purdue, she believes that the relay teams in particular can make a statement about the Boilermakers swimming and diving program.
"It's going to be so exciting having the NCAAs in West Lafayette as we'll be able to represent our pool and the tradition of Purdue swimming and diving."
While she agrees that it's great to be hosting NCAAs, Tracy also pointed out that it's going to be an adjustment for those who have qualified in the past.
"You get used to traveling to meets like that," she said. "So while it's definitely a plus knowing the starting blocks and atmosphere, we're still going to have to make the mental transition to using our own pool."