Kyra Sommerstad, 17, lives for the water and the thrill of shaving seconds off her best swim times. Though she has been swimming competitively since she was 10, for nearly five years, her major goal was to make it to the Olympic trials.
This year, during a meet at the Nassau County Aquatic Center, she was wide eyed when she reviewed her time for the 100-yard backstroke. Her time, 1:02.66, just under the qualifying time by .03 seconds.
“I hoped I would make the qualifying time any time this summer, but I really wasn’t expecting it at this event,” Sommerstad said. “When I looked up and saw my time, I didn’t really realize at first, so I had to do a double take to make sure the time was right, and I just got really emotional.”
Sommerstad’s dad, Ray, said at the time he and the rest of the audience weren’t especially looking at the times, instead focused on the intense back and forth between his daughter and another swimmer during the second backstroke leg, where each was neck and neck. Once she finally got out of the pool, only then did eyes turn up to her final times.
“She goes to practice eight times a week, six days, some days she goes twice,” her father said. “She’s a hard worker — she shows up every day with a smile. Her positive enthusiasm is contagious.”
The Port Jefferson swimmer started in the pool when she was just under 10 years old, as part of what her dad described as every parent’s quest to find an activity for their kid that
This one stuck. She took to the water like a fish, her parents said, and would improve in skill year after year after year. When she was 13, she set a goal for herself that she would make it to the Olympic trials, and she dedicated herself to that bar ever since.
While she represents the Port Jefferson high school in school swimming, for years, the Port Jeff swimmer has been practicing with the Three Village Swim Club. Her coach for the past three years, Mark Anderson, said she is as close to the perfect student as one can get. In his years of coaching, Sommerstad is the first he’s taught to qualify for the Olympic trials.
“She’s really a coach’s dream athlete — she makes corrections really well and she does what she’s told to do, and that’s really rare in a lot of people,” he said. “She’s finally starting to achieve every goal she’s set in front
When she made it her intention to make it to the Olympic qualifiers, she, her coach and her parents would look at the times expected to qualify increase from 1:03.99 in 2012 to 1:03.39 in 2016. For 2020, the time jumped by close to a full second.
And in swimming, when shaving off decimals of a second in a swim time is considered solid work for months of effort, the task looked daunting.
“I’m happy if a swimmer takes off half a second in months trying to get better,” the coach said. “She made it by .03 … It’s a sport of hundreds of seconds, and it puts a lot of things in their lives in perspective.”
As well as being a Scholastic All-American recipient, Sommerstad currently is maintaining a 95 percent average in school and is already committed to The Ohio State University where she plans to compete in swimming. While she hasn’t settled on a specific major yet, she said she was looking into working with children, either in teaching or in occupational therapy.
Those who have seen her train know she puts the same amount of effort into training for swim meets as she does the other important aspects of her life.
“[Her academics] do not suffer at all for all the time she spends in the pool,” her father said. “It actually gives her discipline to make sure she manages her time effectively.”
Though she is heading to the Olympic trials, she, her family and her coach are trying to keep their expectations realistic, as she will be competing against the best swimmers from all across the nation. Despite this, Sommerstad, who is traveling from state to state competing in swim meets, expects her training to ramp up hard as they head to the Olympic trials June 22, 2020.
“I’m definitely going to be working a lot harder this year — doing some extra stuff out of the pool to maybe gain some muscle so I can swim faster,” she said. “I’m hoping to swim a best time at Olympic trials, so I can be seated higher among all the people who have made it.”