Whetstone's perseverance model for young group
Fifth-year senior Cat Whetstone's 2008-09 accomplishments stand on their own as impressive.
Whetstone won a gold medal in the 100-yard backstroke and nailed down a second place finish in the 200-yard backstroke at the Big East Championships to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
But when one considers the uphill battle Whetstone waged to reach those feats, the Philadelphia native's effort is that much more extraordinary. A debilitating rotator cuff injury forced Whetstone to sit out the 2007-08 season and called into question the future of her swimming career.
Now two years removed from the injury, Whetstone enters her final go-around with the Rutgers swimming and diving team as a team captain.
"She just never goes away," senior co-captain Denise Letendre said. "You think she's gone, you think she's down and she comes back. And I'm sure for other teams in our conference, it's probably frustrating because they think, ‘Oh, that Cat Whetstone's gone, and she keeps coming back.' It's been great watching her, and she really is a great person to talk to if you're struggling because she's been there and she knows how to get through it."
The low-point came in the summer of 2008 when the injury prevented her from competing in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb.
"I went there and I watched the race," Whetstone said. "It was just devastating. That was … already a year into the injury, so when I started fall 2008 back at school I really had no expectations."
Prior to the setback, Whetstone specialized in the 100-yard butterfly, placing 14th in the 2007 NCAA Championships with a school record time of 53.27 seconds en-route to gaining recognition as an honorable mention All-American. Unable to continue swimming butterfly, she made the backstroke her forte last season.
That's not to say the rehabilitation process came easily or devoid of doubts.
"I didn't know if I was ever going to be where I was before," Whetstone said. "I just went into every practice enjoying the team, enjoying the opportunity that I had, and just made the best of it because I knew if I put too much emotion in, I would get too upset.
"I slowly started to cross-train and realize what I could do in the water and figure out where I go from there, just taking advantage of the time that I had in the water because I knew what it was like to not have swimming there."
In January's Swimming World Magazine College Conference Carnival, Whetstone signaled that she was still capable of competing at the highest level. She finished second in the 100 and 200 yard backstroke and her times of 53.99 and 1:58.35 set regular season benchmarks for Big East competitors.
"It was really motivating and uplifting because I thought I wasn't going to be able to swim ever again," Whetstone said.
While the effects of the injury are still felt, she said that cross-training exercises have gone a long way in helping to strengthen the shoulder and cope with the pain. Whetstone also said she is hopeful that the Knights' blend of seniors and underclassmen can pave the way for a memorable campaign.
"I try to tell everybody to just take advantage of the time here and appreciate everything that you have as a student-athlete as a swimmer or a diver," Whetstone said. "I definitely try to lead that way."