Petra Martin leads Rutgers in rebuilding process
The process of rebuilding a program is a long one. It doesn’t take days, weeks or months — it takes years to complete.
The Rutgers swimming and diving team is in a state of rebuilding at this point due to the resignation of former head coach Phil Spiniello and the challenge of changing conferences in the Big Ten.
If anyone is up to the daunting task of ensuring that the team makes its return to the path of success and rebuilding the program, it’s Petra Martin.
Athletic Director Julie Hermann made the decision to hire Martin as the new head swimming and diving coach on March 5 this past spring. Martin brings a swimming pedigree to the Scarlet Knights that few others can match.
Martin was an Honorable Mention All-American swimmer at Maryland from 2000 to 2002, where she compiled several records including one in the 200-meter relay. She also represented her country as a swimmer on the Czech National Team and ranked in the world's top 25 in two events — the 50-meter butterfly and the 50-meter freestyle.
“It was obviously a great honor to be able to represent my country,” Martin said. “It taught me a lot … learning how to present yourself well in the public eye, to handle some of those bigger responsibilities where you’re under more scrutiny. I learned a lot ... but also being able to put myself in a situation where I will be able to fight for the toughest spots for the top level competition in the world. You know, it’s not easy.”
Martin’s time as a swimmer helped to get that drive to strive to be the best.
“Like I’m building the team here, my whole career, you’re always building something,” she said. “You’re always looking to improve. You’re always looking to do things better than what you did yesterday. So at the end I learned that as a swimmer being part of the national team because obviously, if you want to stay on top, you need to keep working and you need to keep improving and pushing the envelope every day.”
By competing at a high level for nearly her entire life, Martin has gained nearly limitless knowledge and experience. Those two areas can be helpful tools in molding and shaping a team.
Her swimming career helped to make her the seasoned and experienced coach that she is today.
“Obviously, I’ve been doing this for a while and at a very high level,” Martin said. “Me knowing what it takes to be the best, to compete against the best, I think that’s important and every day I try to pass that onto our women, onto our team. The perspective of racing on the highest level possible and always looking to do things better. Always improving yourself, you know that’s something that I started as a swimmer and I continue that as a coach with my team here.”
Student-athletes have a great influence on their universities and on their communities. That point is something that Martin wants the swimmers to understand.
“I also want them to kind of understand what kind of impact they have and everybody around themselves, not just their teammates, but part of this university and get that whole thing,” Martin said. “As a student-athlete, you carry a lot of responsibility on your shoulders and whatever you do or say represents your team and your athletic department and your school. So I try to pass that on to our team here.”
Being part of a team and having to deal with the hardships of being an athlete can teach rewarding life lessons in the long run, Martin said.
“They have a lot of different things to think about,” she said. “It’s a strict life I would say but it kind of makes sense to and if you have an order like this in your life, I think it makes things a little bit easier. It gets you moving in the right direction but there’s not much free time in between.”
Before taking the job at Rutgers, Martin was at the helm of Bowling Green’s swimming and diving team from 2010 to 2015. She helped turn Bowling Green into a respectable program during her tenure and was named Mid-America Conference Coach of the Year in the 2012-13 season.
“(Rebuilding at BSGU) took some time. It was not easy, but definitely very rewarding experience,” Martin said. “It was great, I really enjoyed my time over there. It was a great place to build a program and we had very good support from the department as well ... just seeing how the atmosphere, how the approach of the whole team has change — how the competitiveness of the whole team has changed — was a lot of fun.”
Martin has been the head swimming and diving coach at Rutgers for a little more than five months now. While it hasn't been long, she has evidently enjoyed the ride to this point.
“It’s been a lot of work,” she said. “Obviously, we are kind of rebuilding the program, so there’s a lot of moving parts at this point, but I think that we’re starting to come together a little bit better ... The women are starting to kind of learn how to do things, how we need them to be doing things. We’re taking it one day at a time, but it’s been exciting. The rebuilding process is never easy, it’s very rewarding, so I’m enjoying the everyday steps that we are taking.”
Martin has already helped guide one of her swimmers, senior Joanna Wu, to Big Ten Swimmer of the week honors.
Wu spoke about the magnitude of winning the award — she is the first in program history to be honored with the accolade — with its recognition on the national stage.
“It was a huge honor,” Wu said. “(The) Big Ten is such a big conference, it's one of the fastest conferences next to PAC 12 and SEC. So having that honor, even in the beginning of the season was great and it gave me so much confidence and it helping me to move forward and embracing this new program and also swimming fast.”
The Knights defeated Wagner, 195-102, in its last meet on Oct. 23. Junior Rachel Stoddard thought the team performed well.
In the early season, both marks from the pair of Knights are promising signs as their head coach continues to settle in during her first year steering the ship on the Banks.
“Oh, awesome,” Stoddard said about the team's performance. “The cheering was great. Everyone’s energy and how everyone was supporting one another and doing what they need to do in order to prepare.”
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