Casey Clark excels in both the classroom and in the swimming pool. The Baker College senior will be graduating in May with a degree in civil and environmental engineering and already has a job lined up with Shell. With her friendly personality and relaxed conversational style, anyone speaking with her would not expect her to be the same person whose competitive drive and skill makes her one of the most accomplished swimmers in Rice history.
Clark began swimming competitively year-round at the age of nine, but in about two months, her demanding schedule of two-a-day practices and traveling for meets might be over. She says the reality of the impending shock of not swimming competitively again has not hit her yet.
“[Swimming] has been such a large part of my life,” Clark said. “Swimming takes so much time and it becomes your identity. People know me as ‘the swimmer.’”
From the moment she came to Rice as a graduate of Klein High School, 45 minutes north of Rice, she took the pool by storm and made an immediate contribution to the Owl’s swim team. She shared the team’s Rookie of the Year award, won three individual bronze medals and broke a Rice record in her first season as an Owl.
That summer, Clark competed in the United States Olympic Team Trials. Commonly referred to as “Trials,” the meet is held every four years before the Summer Olympics to select the participants for the U.S. swim team. Clark competed in those Trials in both the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter freestyle.
According to Clark, her goal was to achieve Olympic Trials cuts in order to compete in more events at the meet and simply enjoy the experience.
“Obviously, going into Olympic Trials, I didn’t think I was going to make the team,” Clark said. “It was more about the experience of going and trying to maximize the amount of swims there.”
Clark said despite not placing very highly, she recalls the thrill of competing on one of the highest stages.
“It was really cool to just be at that high-profile meet,” Clark said. “They had fireworks on the pool deck and everything. It was just cool to be in a setting in which swimming was getting the attention that I feel other sports get.”
In a long-course meters (Olympic-size 50- meter pool) meet in Austin two weeks ago, Clark posted two lifetime best marks in the 100-meter freestyle (57.08) and the 100-meter butterfly (1:00.42), the latter being an Olympic Trials cut.
Despite qualifying for the Olympic Trials once again, Clark is leaning toward not competing in the meet once again in 2016. According to Clark, going to the Trials would require her to train rigorously for over a year more than she would otherwise.
“It is kind of a tricky situation because I am graduating in May and I accepted a job in New Orleans,” Clark said. “With that, I don’t think I would be able to train or compete at the level that I need to be at.”
However, Clark said she has not completely shut the door on swimming in Omaha with the nation’s best once again in July 2016.
“I am just going to start working, but I could take a couple months off and then train again,” Clark said. “If I decide that it is something I can do, then I might.”
Clark’s current focus, however, remains her college meets which take place in a short-course yards competition pool. While international meets such as the Olympics take place in 50-meter pools, most meets in the United States occur in 25-yard pools, which make for faster times due to the differences with the metric system and the larger number of turns in the races.
Right now, Clark is working on tapering, or gradually beginning to rest, for the Conference USA Championship Meet in Knoxville, Tennessee on Feb. 18-21 and for the NCAA Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina a month later. As possibly the only Owls swimmer to compete in both meets, Clark said she has to find a way to be rested yet prepared.
“I am sort of half-tapering for conference and half-tapering for national,” Clark said. “Just points-wise, it does not make sense for me to not be rested and conference and not try to swim at the top level, but at the same time, I can’t put all of my eggs in that basket and not do well at nationals.”
Clark is looking forward to bringing back a second consecutive conference championship to Rice. In last year’s meet where she was named the Swimmer of the Meet, the Owls won the conference. This year, she said it will be much more difficult to attain that level of success.
“Our conference is going to be way more challenging,” Clark said. “Last year we won it handily by about 300 points. It is going to be a lot more challenging, but we are definitely a stronger team this year.”
With a conference championship meet, NCAA championships and even possibly another Olympic Trials left for her, she currently sits atop the Rice swimming record books with individual school records in the 100 yard freestyle (49.26), 100 backstroke (53.86), 200 freestyle (1:45.69), 200 butterfly (1:57.28) and in her favorite event, the 100 butterfly (52.70). In addition, she has been a member of four of the school’s five record setting relays. Clark said it might take another record-breaking swim for her to attain her goal of reaching the finals at the NCAA championships this year.
“I’ve been twice before but I didn’t make finals,” Clark said. “My goal is to final and score points at NCAAs.”