Gameday+ | Meet a Buckeye: Katie Trace, swimming

Ray Stein
Ohio State swimmer Katie Trace is a fifth generation Buckeye. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

Katie Trace

Sport: Women’s swimming

Age: 20

Year: Junior

Hometown: Upper Arlington

Major: Communications

Question: Let’s jump right into the pool, as it were: How long have you been swimming?

Answer: I’ve been swimming as long as I can remember, but I first joined a competitive team when I was 5 years old.

Q: Who got you started in swimming, and what do you remember about your first competition?

A: All of my older siblings were on the swim team, so of course I wanted to follow in their footsteps. One of the earliest memories I have racing was when I was about 6 or 7 and my goggles fell off when I jumped into the water. I ended up doing a flip turn about 10 yards away from the wall and swimming to the finish. I was disqualified because I didn’t swim the whole race!

Q: Were your parents, Tom and Sarah, swimmers? If not, what were their athletic pursuits?

A: My dad played basketball and football in high school and went on to play football at Capital University. My mom ran track in high school and at Indiana for a year before transferring home to Ohio State. She swam in a community league growing up, and my dad competed in masters swimming and triathlons after college. He later coached high school and club swimming for a few years, which is how we all got involved in the sport. Now he coaches wrestling and football.

Q: Let’s talk about your siblings — five of them, so you guys would make up a relay and a half. Oldest to youngest, what are their names and what do they do?

A: All six of us played water polo and swam for Upper Arlington. Amy, 26, is now a nurse in Cincinnati and swam at Miami University for a year. Betsy, 23, played water polo at Ohio State, graduated last December and coaches swimming and water polo at Upper Arlington. Thomas, 23, is Betsy’s twin and swam at Ohio State, also graduating last December. Julie, 20, is my twin sister and plays water polo at the University of Cincinnati. (Yes, two sets of twins in our family!) And last but definitely not least, Jack, 15, continues the Trace tradition and plays water polo and swims for Upper Arlington.

Q: Is there one sibling you’re more competitive with than others?

A: Thomas and I are competitive when it comes to swimming accolades. I bring up the fact that I hold more school records than him, but he likes to remind me that he’s a Big Ten champion, so he’s winning for now.

Q: Swimming problem No. 1: How difficult is it to squeeze into a skin-tight competition suit?

A: Oh boy, it’s a process. For some, it can take up to 30 minutes! I can usually get mine on in about 10, but each suit is different, and the newer ones are extra tight. Sometimes I even end up with blisters on my knuckles.

Q: All things being equal, would you prefer to race as an individual or on a relay?

A: I love racing on relays. I’m very team-focused and feed off of the energy that comes with competing as one unit. It’s four athletes giving everything they have for each other. There’s no better feeling than competing with the love of my teammates behind me.

Q: Do you have a preferred relay leg that you like to swim?

A: My favorite is the third. If the first two people do their job, we’re in a good position to compete in our heat. The third leg is a great opportunity to get out ahead of the other teams and put the anchor leg in a position to win.

Q: What is your stroke when you are part of a medley relay? Is there one discipline that you never, ever swim in a medley relay?

A: My strongest stroke is butterfly, which happens to be third in the medley relay, so that works out well. For years, I was known to have terrible breaststroke form, so my short answer is breaststroke. But I have steadily been improving, so it’s still probably my weakest stroke, but at least it doesn’t ruin a good race for me.

Q: You have the fifth-fastest time in OSU program history in the 400 individual medley, so you’re obviously good at it. Please rank the strokes in order of preference, from first to worst.

A: Butterfly, freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke. I like butterfly because I’m good at it, and it’s a stroke that’s hard to train so it gives me a lot of confidence when I perform well. Freestyle is diverse in the sense that you can do it at many different speeds, so I like mixing it up and racing anywhere from a 50 to a 500 free. Breaststroke has been my baby for the past couple of years. I’ve been working hard at improving, so every time I do it right it means so much to me. Backstroke is frustrating because I’m so inconsistent with it, but having that knowledge is just another way I can get better.

Q: Swimming problem No. 2: Do you ever get water in your ears? Is there anything worse in the world?

A: Swimmer’s ear, as is it called, is truly painful, and I’ve experienced it quite a few times over the years. But nothing hurts worse than hitting your hand on the lane line or another teammate’s hand! I have scars on my right hand to prove it.

Q: I know you were able to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha; what was that experience like?

A: I was so grateful to compete in the 2016 Trials alongside my brother Thomas. I had just committed to swim at Ohio State, and that meet helped me foster a belief in myself that I was capable of great things. I’ve been thinking about that experience a lot lately and how it’s preparing me to compete at the Trials again in 2020.

Q: Did you ever “accidentally” bump into anyone famous there: “I’m so sorry, Michael Phelps,” or anything like that?

A: Seventeen-year-old me accidentally jumped on top of Olympic gold medalist Conor Dwyer on my way into the warmup pool. I nervously yelled “sorry!” and went right into my warmup swim to avoid even more embarrassment.

Q: What other world hot spots has swimming taken you?

A: For my first big meet, my mom and I drove to Greensboro, North Carolina, when I was 16. Before then, I had only competed in Ohio. The spring after my senior year of high school I raced in Indianapolis. Everywhere else has come from swimming in college, but other than college towns, the past two summers we’ve raced in Irvine then Stanford. Our team is also traveling to Oahu for training over winter break!

Q: By my count, the women’s swimming team has athletes from 11 states and seven foreign countries; do you get asked a lot about things to do in Columbus?

A: I did a lot when I was a freshman and people in my class would ask me about places to go to dinner with their parents. I quickly learned there was much more to Columbus than I had known in high school, and now one of my favorite things to do is go explore what the city has to offer! I love trying new restaurants and visiting new places around town.

Q: Swimming problem No. 3: How much do you spend each month trying to fight the effects on chlorine on your hair?

A: After swimming for this long, there’s only so much you can do. I do what I can with what I have and just hope it looks good in pictures!

Q: You were a part of six state championship teams in high school — three in swimming and three in water polo. How does your mindset change when you play water polo?

A: It’s a complete shift. Compare it to running track versus playing basketball — there are so many more moving pieces when it comes to water polo and while there is some overlap, I had a lot to learn before I could play well. There’s more teamwork in water polo too, and it requires you to be observant of the whole pool and predict where the ball will go next. Plus, throwing a ball for many swimmers is difficult to begin with. Swimming doesn’t teach a lot of hand-eye coordination!

Q: Do you prefer one sport to the other?

A: Water polo is typically more fun for me to watch and play, but I love the patience that comes with swimming. You have to work hard and grind through the tough winter months until championship season comes, and then you know you’re in for something special.

Q: You’re about halfway through your third year at Ohio State, the big school in your hometown. Do you still pinch yourself?

A: I am so grateful to be at The Ohio State University. It’s rare to be able to surround yourself with as many inspiring, hard-working and loving people as I am. I’m a fourth-generation Buckeye and I’m lucky enough to have had great coaches and mentors to get me where I am today. Their knowledge and support have only made it easier for me to become the best version of myself and bring joy to those around me.

Q: Do I even have to ask what your favorite Pixar movie is?

A: I won’t lie, sometimes I do hear Ellen DeGeneres saying “just keep swimming” in the back of my mind during a tough workout. But my favorite is probably “The Incredibles.”

Q: Swimming problem No. 4: How much do you have to (or want to) eat after a long, grueling practice?

A: As much as possible! One time after a hard Saturday morning practice, our distance training group went out to eat at the Original Pancake House. I ordered an omelet and a plate of pancakes and our waitress warned me, saying it’s a lot of food. I looked at my teammates and tried not to laugh. I ate the whole thing.