Former Olympian passes on fighting spirit

Road to the Olympics

Kristy Kowal was in the pool by the age of five, and though she says she wasn’t a great swimmer in the beginning, her perseverance proved later in life she has what it takes to be an Olympian.

It didn’t come easy, though. Kowal gave it three goes at the Olympic trials before she qualified to represent Team USA.

“I knew how hard it was to make the Olympic team. It was nothing that I took for granted,” Kowal said.

Her hard work paid off when the Burks County, Pennsylvania, native scored a silver medal in the 200 breaststroke at the 2000 Sydney summer Olympics. She also broke the American record. Now, Kowal is passing on her skills and knowledge of swimming to other Olympic hopefuls.

“I think coaching is so much harder than actually swimming because you put so much energy into your swimmer and then you can’t control anything,” Kowal said.

By day, she’s an elementary school teacher, but once class let’s out, it’s straight to the pool as the assistant coach for the Wilson High School girl’s swim team.

“Every coach is experienced, but she’s obviously been at the top level that she can go, so you have a lot of faith in her,” swim team member Megan Sensenig said.

Kowal said her experience at the Olympic games not only shaped her into the person she is today, but paves the way for teams of young athletes who aspire to be just like her.

“She’s always positive, always brings so much energy, and she’s just an inspiring person to be around,” Sensenig said.

Ultimately, Kowal preaches a never quit attitude.

“Your greatest disappointments can lead to your greatest victories in life.” Kowal said. “You cannot just give up on yourself after a disappointment and if you do, then your greatest dreams will never come true.”

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