When time off adds up to more than lost time

Swimming: Notre Dame Prep's Bridget Kimmel took a sabbatical from the sport for 15 months, and has come back stronger than ever.

High Schools

January 25, 2002|By Nathan Max | Nathan Max,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Upon entering high school, Notre Dame Prep swimmer Bridget Kimmel already had won enough. At age 14, having swum competitively at a high level for six years, she was burned out and quit.

"I was so sick of swimming," Kimmel, now a junior, said. "Basically, I hated it. At first I thought I was going to quit for good. The first few months I thought, `This is great, I'm never going back.' "

Kimmel, 17, gave up competitive swimming for 15 months - from July 1999 to October 2000. But during that layoff she realized something: She needed the sport.

So Kimmel came back, and as a sophomore she immediately re-established herself as the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland conference's top all-around swimmer.

Tomorrow afternoon, Kimmel will showcase her skills again at the IAAM conference meet, as she will lead NDP's bid for an eighth consecutive league title at 3 p.m. at UMBC. Last year, Kimmel won all four of her events - the 100-yard butterfly, 100 backstroke, 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay - and is one of only four swimmers to accomplish that feat at a Catholic League conference swim meet.

"I don't like to say one person makes a difference, but she is a major contributor to our success," said NDP coach Lisa Wiegmann, who has led the Blazers to a conference championship in all six of her seasons. "Whether or not we would have won without her, I don't know. All I know is I'm glad she's on my team, and I'd like to have a half-dozen more Bridgets."

Kimmel started swimming for a summer team at Roland Run when she was 5 years old, then tried out for and made the team at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club when she was 8. There she became teammates with current Olympian Michael Phelps and swam under his coach, Bob Bowman.

But the demands of swimming at NBAC - which has produced six Olympians, including Anita Nall and 1996 gold medalist Beth Botsford - eventually became too much for Kimmel. NBAC swimmers train "seven days a week, 360 days a year, including Thanksgiving," according to Bowman. And by the time Kimmel turned 14, she admits she could no longer handle its rigors.

The longer Kimmel sat out, however, the more she missed it. Until finally, she decided to return.

"Taking time off definitely had a positive impact, because it made me realize how much swimming is a part of me and how much my life is in line with it," Kimmel said. "Now I'm excited to go to practice, and am never like, `I don't want to be here.' I'm not burned out or tired of it at all."

Since Kimmel's return, she has had to deal with the months of development she missed while sitting out. Although Kimmel admits she is not quite where she wants to be and has "a lot of room for improvement," she has made remarkable progress.

Last week, Kimmel swam for NBAC in the prestigious Eastern Classic swim meet in Atlanta. Nine top teams from across the nation competed, and Kimmel's three top 10 finishes - in the 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke and 100 butterfly - helped NBAC win its third consecutive Eastern Classic.

"Since she's returned, her work ethic has improved so much that she's been able to overcome what she had missed," Bowman said. "Bridget's blessed with a lot of ability, so she can overcome what a lot of people cannot.

"From a coaching standpoint, I can't say taking time off was a positive thing, and clearly from a physiological standpoint, I would have liked to have had her training. But as far as her mind-set goes, it seems to have worked out pretty well."

Refocused and revitalized, Kimmel says her goal is to qualify for the U.S. National Swimming Championships. Currently, she is a few tenths of a second off the necessary time in some events.

According to Bowman: "Bridget has the potential to make it at the national level. The only person who is going to determine that is Bridget. Time will tell if she can stay with her daily commitment. She's done a very good job since she's come back."

Regardless, one thing is clear. If Kimmel had not taken a break from swimming, she would not have matured in time to understand how much the sport means to her.

"I think it's different for every person, but it's worth it to take time off if the alternative is hating it so much that you quit forever," Kimmel said. "When you take time off, it makes you realize how big a part of your life the sport is, and you realize that you really do miss it. I always knew in the back of my mind that I was never complete without it. Because swimming is just a part of who I am."

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