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Senior reflects on swimming career at Rutgers

<p>Senior swimmer Joanna Wu left Seattle hoping to face different people. Her wish was granted. Rutgers has played in three conferences in her time here.</p>

Senior swimmer Joanna Wu left Seattle hoping to face different people. Her wish was granted. Rutgers has played in three conferences in her time here.

Entering the year 2012, no one would’ve predicted that Rutgers would become a member of one of the country’s premier academic and athletic conferences in the Big Ten. 

The thought of seeing the Scarlet Knights competing on a national stage was seen as an afterthought.

And yet, three years later, the Knights are nearly at the midway point of their second season in the Big Ten Conference.

One Rutgers athlete who had a front row seat to the process was Joanna Wu. Now a senior on the Rutgers swimming and diving team, Wu witnessed the Knights' move from the Big East Conference to the American Athletic Conference and finally into the Big Ten.

Wu competes in the backstroke and freestyle events for her team. She has accomplished many feats during her career on the Banks with her most recent award being the Big Ten Swimmer of the Week — the first in program history — on Oct. 7 this season.

Wu has ventured a long way to arrive in Piscataway. She hales from Kent, Washington, nearly 3,000 miles away from Rutgers.

Wu's swimming career had an early start.

“I started swimming competitively when I was 8,” she said. “I kind of did what a lot of swimmers do now. When they were kids, they started doing swim lessons and then I got to the end of the program and they were like, ‘Oh, you graduated.' Then there was this option where you can do something called pre-comp and that is like pre-competitive swimming."

Wu continued to partake in pre-competitive swimming for a short time before moving on to a higher level.

“I did that for probably a few months and then I joined my club team back home around 8 or 9,” Wu said. “And then I was still doing some other sports at that time and it wasn’t until I got to high school that I solely focused on swimming and that’s where my talent and my heart and my work ethic started to really blossom and really benefited me from doing the sport and really got me to be better at what I do.”

Wu swam for the Kent-Meridian High School swim team throughout her four years at the school. She was named most valuable player for the Royals three times and qualified for the state championships in every season.

Despite all of her success as a high school swimmer, Wu’s biggest influence came from her club team — King Aquatic Club. She swam on the club team for 10 years.

“The biggest influence I’ve had was probably one of my friends that I swam with during my club years,” Wu said. “Her name is Andy Taylor. She graduated from Stanford last year and she was very fast, she still is very fast. She’s always been encouraging me … She always has this smile on her face no matter what kind of work out she’s doing, (even) if it’s hard."

Taylor’s encouragement has had a tremendously positive effect on Wu.

“No matter what life throws at her, she always has a smile and she’ll never let anyone show her weaker side and she’s always been able to encourage me, not just by saying, ‘Oh you can go faster’ or whatever, but by being her best,” Wu said. “By being the fastest swimmer on our team, she was able to push me even though … It was just having her be my goal and having her being my inspiration … has kept me going through all these years.”

The late Yogi Berra described baseball as being 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental. 

Perhaps the same analogy could be said for swimming, as Wu describes the mental aspect of the sport as a huge importance.

“Swimming is very mental,” Wu said. “A lot of sports are, but I think especially when you’re in an individual sport, you don’t have other players to physically help you. Like in football, you have different people doing different parts, different teammates helping you out each play to get the ball to the other side. In swimming, no one can help you get to the end of the wall. So you have to do it by yourself, and it gets really hard when you have a resistance, a force that’s preventing you doing that.”

Wu chose to attend Rutgers to race against unfamiliar competitors. That opportunity, immersed in a new world, evidently added up for Wu's desire to leave her mark.

“I’m from Seattle, Washington, which is a long ways across the country,” Wu said. “But I wanted a school where I didn’t really know anyone. I wanted a school where I wanted to race different kinds of people. Back on my club team, we would always race the same people because you race people that’s in your division and its only until a big meet in March where people from Colorado, California, Hawaii, Arizona when they come up to Washington to race against us … It was a new experience and I wanted to try new things, so it was great.”

Wu helped lead Rutgers to victories over Seton Hall and Georgetown this past weekend. Head coach Petra Martin expressed compliments for Wu.

“With her, the times are right around where she’s been the last couple meets, which is great,” Martin said. “But if you look at her races, it’s pretty much at a different rate every time because we’re working on a couple different things with her and she’s improving. She’s definitely making the adjustments that we need her to be doing. So I’m really excited when it all comes together and I think at the Frank Elm Invite, we should see something pretty special.”

The Knights’ next meet will be the Frank Elm Invite Nov. 20, and the team will be looking to secure another good turnout. For sophomore Addison Walkowiak, staying healthy over the next 10 days will be key.

“My main thing is just staying healthy because I rolled my ankle two weeks ago and I’m out of practice until this week,” she said. “So just trying to stay healthy and going with all my dives and my training.”

For updates on the Rutgers swimming and diving team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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