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Sophomore Catherine Buroker was just the second Penn women's swimmer of all time to qualify for the NCAA Championships when she did last season.

Credit: Emily Xu

Most student-athletes struggle adjusting to college their freshman year, taking time to find success and their role on the team.

Penn women's swimming's Catherine Buroker is not like most student-athletes. The sky is the limit for the long-distance star as she enters her sophomore season. The fact that she draws inspiration from one of the greatest of all time helps, too.

“I started swimming in 2008, after Michael Phelps won his eight gold medals," Buroker said. “My brother and I decided we wanted to try out for the Olympic swim team and it all started there."

Buroker won the Ivy League Championship in the 1000-yard and 1650 freestyle last season, setting program records for both distances, with times of 9:40.04 and 16:11.06, respectively. These marks are especially impressive given the program's tradition of distance swimming.

“Penn has a legacy of good distance swimming,” Buroker said. “[We've] had girls win the 500 free for the last eight years, so I just want to be a part of that legacy.”

In just one year, Buroker has not only put her name in the record books, but she has also accomplished something that few in Penn history have ever done. Based on her performance at the Ivy Championships, Buroker became just the second woman in program history to reach the NCAA Championships, after Shelby Fortin accomplished the feat in 2013 and 2014.

“It was definitely really nerve-wracking being the only one from the team there and have to represent the team around some of the biggest swim stars in the world,” Buroker said. “I learned a lot and I’m ready this year to hopefully get back there.”

At the NCAA Championships, Buroker achieved the highest placement by a Penn woman at the event after finishing 38th in the 1650 freestyle with a time of 16:25.09. She also placed 60th in the 500 freestyle.

Looking forward to this season, there is still plenty of room for growth as Buroker cements her legacy within the program.

“As an athlete, she always has another level to get to; we just scratched the surface last year,” coach Mike Schnur said. “She has improved a lot in her races, and hopefully we can continue that learning curve and keep getting in better shape and getting stronger. … I see her continuing to grow as a leader and an athlete.”

“I’m always looking to keep getting better,” Buroker said. “[I’m looking to improve] my speed, especially in the 500 free. That’s where my weakness is.”

Finding success and consistent improvement requires a drive and devotion that few have. Fortunately for the Quakers, Buroker’s personality has been a key element of her success up to this point.

“Her heart is massive. The girl trains like a mad dog every day. She hates to lose, and she’ll do anything humanly possible for success,” Schnur said. “She’s willing to pay the price every day.”

This devotion to her craft makes coaching Buroker a quick study, yet this work ethic is contagious across all of her teammates, especially her fellow long-distance swimmers.

“She’s one of those kids you look forward to seeing every day," Schnur said. “She’s part of a distance group on our team that hits workouts. They work hard, and they really support each other. All I have to do at night is figure out new ways to challenge them."

Buroker has already gotten off the ground running this season, winning the 1000 free in the team’s match with Brown and finishing in the top three in each of her two events versus Columbia

Only a sophomore, Buroker’s work ethic and skills have already made her a star for Penn swimming, but with nearly three seasons ahead of her, it is now time to see just how far she can go. 

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