After wrapping up an illustrious high school swimming career at McDonogh in 2006, one that included All-America status 16 times and a handful of school records that still stand, Anne-Marie Botek is exactly where she wants to be four years later.
As the NCAA Division I national championship approaches - it's set for next Thursday through March 20 at Purdue University - Botek will be completing her University of Georgia career as the top sprinter for the country's No. 1 team.
"Being a senior, it's a very emotional time for me right now," said Botek, an Ellicott City native who specializes in the 50-yard freestyle and is the key contributor on the team's relays. "It's getting close to the end and you're never really quite sure you're prepared for that, but I've got some exciting things coming up. I've been swimming competitively since I was 7, and it's been such a long journey - it's great to see the hard work pay off."
Getting to where she is now was anything but easy. Her journey had sudden, life-changing obstacles when she arrived at Georgia.
During a routine physical before the start of her freshman season, Botek was diagnosed with Long QT syndrome, a heart arrhythmia that can be life-threatening to athletes. But after seeking a specialist's opinion from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota more than two months later, she learned she had a less serious arrhythmia that enabled her to swim.
Imagine having a doctor tell you that your alarm clock could end up killing you because you might get startled by it and have a heart attack.
"For those 2 1/2 months, I basically thought I was never going to swim again," Botek said. "When you go off to college, especially far away like I did, you're worried about normal things like making friends and being away from your family for the first time. But you don't really think you would be confronting your own mortality and having something taken away from you that you've been doing all your life. It was so incredibly difficult - the hardest experience of my life so far."
Botek returned to the pool in time to compete in the Southeastern Conference and NCAA championships, but because of the training time she lost, she was disappointed with her performances. In a bid to make up for the lost time, she increased her training and focused on her diet in hopes of becoming leaner and stronger. What began as good intentions turned into a severe case of anorexia nervosa.
"My anorexia lasted for about a year," she said. "Right after NCAAs, I focused on my diet and lost 50 pounds in the next few months and kept that weight off all the way through NCAAs my sophomore year. After that meet is when I worked on getting better."
Her mother, Linda, said the drive that made Botek succeed in the pool since she began swimming for the Columbia Clippers also was vital in helping her get back into the pool.
"Anne-Marie is so strong. She understood the arrhythmia was out of her control and that others would tell her if she would be allowed to swim again or not. But the eating disorder was all her. We hear horror stories about others that aren't able to overcome that, but Anne-Marie is very introspective. She was able to understand why it happened to her and what it had done to her and see what she had to do to help herself," Linda Botek said.
Returning to her previous weight and strength helped Botek find success at the college level for the first time during her junior year. She won the 50 freestyle at the SEC championships - earning All-SEC first-team honors - and was on the 200 medley relay team that won a national championship.
Botek's success also is enabling her to pursue her dream of competing in the 2012 Olympics. Last summer, she finished fifth in the 50 freestyle at the world championship trials that placed her on the U.S. national team. She will compete in the national championships this summer to try to qualify for the 2010 Pan Pacific Games.
Right now, her attention is focused on helping the Lady Bulldogs capture the program's fifth national championship. "Anne-Marie is a great kid and is real important to us," Georgia coach Jack Bauerle said. "She's had a couple things transpire that were very difficult, but she really responded well."
Looking back now, Botek, a marketing major and honor roll student, is amazed that she was able to deal with the trying circumstances and says she has grown immeasurably.
"The biggest thing the whole series of events has done is just strengthen my resolve and confidence in my ability to not only swim, but to overcome any challenges in life," Botek said. "I reached a very low point at the height of my anorexia where I seriously questioned whether I should swim anymore. But by asking myself that question, I found the answer was yes, so now when I swim, I have ... much greater confidence."
The intensity that McDonogh coach Scott Ward describes as "white hot" that has long been ingrained in Botek is stoked now as she prepares for the NCAA championship. After finishing second in her bid to defend her SEC title in the 50, she's working hard on cleaning up her technique in hopes of bringing home an NCAA individual title.
"I really believe she's got a shot to win this NCAA championship in the 50 free, but more importantly for us, we need her to just swim well and also do great in the relays," Bauerle said. "She's been amazingly consistent and has really learned to step it up to the point where we can very much depend on her every time she's out there."
Each week, The Baltimore Sun will catch up with a former area high school sports figure. In the spotlight today is former McDonogh swimmer Anne-Marie Botek. To suggest former athletes or coaches to be considered for Alumni Report, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org