IOWA CITY — Like most Division I college swimmers, Kelsey Drake’s goal was to qualify for the NCAA meet.
The University of Iowa junior posted a school-record time of 1 minute, 55.89 seconds in the 200-yard butterfly during a time trial at the Big Ten Championships in Iowa City, qualifying for the national meet.
“The moment I saw that time and realized I had a very good chance at making it to NCAAs was one of the best moments of my life,” said the former Linn-Mar standout. “I had been working toward this goal for so long, it was almost surreal that it was happening.”
The Big Ten meet ended on Feb. 22 and Drake continued her training for the NCAA meet, scheduled to begin on March 18 in Athens, Ga. This was about time concerns about the coronavirus heightened. Drake remembered things beginning to escalate the week before the scheduled start of the national meet.
“I honestly thought there was no way that they were going to cancel the meet,” she said. “Then the NCAA announced that there would be no spectators and I still thought that everything was going to continue as planned. The moment I realized that wasn’t the case was when all of the conference basketball championships were canceling.”
It didn’t take long for inevitable news to come that all NCAA winter championships were being canceled. Understandably, Drake, who was named an All-American by the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America last week and one of four team MVPs on Friday, took the news hard.
“I was on the phone with my mom (Jennifer) when they announced it,” she said. “I was so heartbroken and devastated that I wouldn’t be able to compete at this meet. I just broke down.
“This is the fastest meet in the world and I have worked my entire life for it and it was just taken away from me. It was not an easy thing to get over, even though I know that it is what needed to happen. I just wish there was something the NCAA would do to make up for the cancellation.”
That day also was the last time Drake has been in a pool.
“After (the NCAA announcement) I took about a week off from any sort of training,” she said. “We start training in August so it’s a long season. I knew I needed to give my body a break. Also, I just needed to take some time to come to terms with what was happening with everything.”
Now, just over a month after the cancellation of the NCAA meet, Drake is looking ahead to her senior season. She has remained in her Iowa City apartment, completing her classes virtually and has a summer internship with the UI’s Center of Advancement. An industrial engineering major, Drake is on course to graduate next year.
This summer also was going to include participating in the Olympic Trials that were scheduled to start on June 21 in Omaha. Drake made the qualifying standard in the 100-meter butterfly. With the Olympics being pushed back a year, Drake isn’t sure if she will swim at the trials in 2021.
“I haven’t decided what I am going to do next year,” she said. “Right now, I am leaning toward continuing to train, but it depends on my job situation after I graduate.”
For now, Drake is doing what she can during these unprecedented times.
“It’s been challenging to say the least,” she said. “I am not used to not being able to be in a pool. It helps to know that all other swimmers are going through the same thing.”