March 24, 2013
By Jon Cooper
One-100th of a second.
It’s an amount of time indistinguishable without a stop watch.
At the 2013 ACC Swimming and Diving Championships, one-100th of a second made the difference between 50 seconds and 49.99, all the difference in the world to Kate Riley, allowing her to create school-history and fulfill a personal dream.
“It’s been a goal since my freshman year in high school that I wanted to be a 49 [second] 100 freestyler,” Riley said. “To have that goal come true is one of the best feelings ever. To go out knowing that I’m a 49.9 100 freestyler makes everything worth it. All the 6:00 a.m. workouts, all the pain, all the soreness was definitely worth it.”
Fulfilling goals has been a theme throughout the Oak Ridge, N.C., native’s four years at Georgia Tech, be it in the pool, the classroom or the community.
It’s a reason Riley is one of 10 finalists and one of three Georgia Tech student-athletes to be nominated for the Peach of an Athlete Award, joining track and field’s Perron Jones and women’s tennis’ Elizabeth Kilborn. The award will be given at the 29th Annual Peach of an Athlete Role Model Banquet, being held at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, tomorrow night. The dinner begins at 7:00 p.m.
The Peach of an Athlete recognizes amateur and professional athletes who live or go to school in Georgia and have excelled in the classroom, as well as in the community.
Riley, a team captain, has done that, as much for those around her, especially on the 2012-13 Swimming and Diving Team.
“We have 11 freshmen this year out of a team of 21. So a big thing is helping them understand that part of being a good leader and captain is someone who takes that off the court and helps the younger swimmers,” she said. “A big thing is helping them understand that being a good athlete means you get good grades and that you participate in community service and you give back to the community because there’s so much support that they give to you.”
She was honored by the POA nomination.
“It definitely was nice to know that everything that I’ve done outside the pool was being recognized, to know that they didn’t just look at my swimming,” she said. “They also looked at the fact that I went to community service events, I worked really hard in school to get good grades. It definitely helps others to know that it’s important not just to be a good swimmer but you have to be a well-rounded athlete as well.”
It is hard not to look at just her swimming, as there is so much to see.
That 49.99 in the 100 freestyle, made Riley only the second Yellow Jacket in the 12-year history of the women’s swimming and diving program to finish under 50 seconds (Agatha Kwasnik is the other, holding the all-time school-record of 49.39, set in 2008). It was an emotional moment to cap off a superlative career.
“Right after it happened, I looked up into the stands and my mom and dad were cheering, my mom was crying. All my teammates and my coaches were jumping. They were happy for me,” she recalled. “As soon as I got out, [Assistant Coach] Marty Hamburger, my personal coach my freshman year, gave me a huge hug. He was just super-happy because Georgia Tech has helped me become a sprinter who swims under 50 seconds in the 100.”
That feeling of elation in achievement of a goal is not new to Riley. She’s seen it plenty, especially as the anchor on several relays, including school-record-setting 200-meter Freestyle Relay at the 2012 ACCs, which swam a 1:31.74, the 200 Medley Relay which went 1:42.38, second in school history, and the 400 Freestyle Relay, which did a 3:21.69, third all-time.
The feeling of being part of relays has been special for Riley, who recalled that one of her most memorable races didn’t set a record.
“I love taking part in relays. Getting out there, having three girls in front of you and knowing that this last part of that relay is going to determine how we finish is definitely a big part of why I love to swim,” she said. “Last year, we had to beat Duke in order to beat them in for the ACCs. I dove in behind on the relay and I out-touched the Duke girl in order for us to beat them. That’s definitely the moment I was happiest. After that would be the 49, obviously.”
Helping others has inspired her in her work with the Student-Athlete Advisory Board.
Swimming Coach Courtney Shealy Hart felt Riley, in the second semester of her freshman year, would be perfect to fill a swim team vacancy on the board. Of course, she could not turn it down.
“At first it was, ‘Wow, that’s adding a lot. That’s adding meetings and extra community service and making sure that my teammates participate in meeting community service standards,'” Riley recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ and I’ve loved it.”
In her four years, Riley has been an eager participant in the Michael Isenhour Toy Drive, Tech Beautification Day, The GTAA Leadership Academy and Atlanta Girls On the Run, which she calls her favorite.
“The excitement you feel for these young girls before the run is nice but I definitely think that going to the 5K run on Saturday morning and just cheering for them along the course is great,” she said. “They’re so excited. It reminds me that they’re out there exercising, working out, running this 5K because they want to and they love it. It reminds me of why I swim, because I love it, because it’s fun. It helps me get past the early morning workouts, the tiredness, the stress of having to juggle swimming and athletics. All of them out there running, the cheering, it’s a great experience, especially to do it as a team. All of us are out there. It’s just a great time. It’s nice to know that we can give back together to the Athletic Association.”
Of course, Riley has been a superb student, earning All-ACC Academic Honor Roll her first three years, being named Dean’s List after every Spring and Faculty Honors after every Fall. This is with a double major.
“Kate is both an International Affairs and a Management major,” said Associate Director of Athletics – SWA Theresa Wenzel. “She has done internships, I believe for the FBI and is in the process of doing one for the CIA, or vice versa.
“[The POA nominees] go above and beyond, not only during the academic year, being August through May or June, but also in the summer time,” she added. “They really reach out and branch out to really try to develop their resume and develop, I would say, their exposure.”
Riley learned from her initial exposure to Georgia Tech academics that there would be choppy seas to navigate. But that makes her 3.78 GPA so satisfying.
“It means a lot. I definitely know that Georgia Tech is hard and there are some times when I don’t know if I CAN do it,” she said. “But I’ve used a lot of help; athletic support from the Athletic Association is great. I learned that I really had to prioritize and understand that swimming is important and I have to train but school work is just as important.
“I love swimming but I know that I’m done now and the next part of my life is going to be based on what I did academically,” she added. “I’ve had a 4.0 every fall semester so far and that’s probably right up there with my 49.9. Those two things are probably the two proudest moments of my life.”
There’s a lot of excitement to come. Riley graduates in December and has her sights set on the LSATs and law school in the fall of 2014. She’s grateful for the helping hand she’ll receive as an ACC Post-Graduate Award winner (Jones and Kilborn complete the Tech triumvirate of PGA winners). In the meantime, she’s looking forward to an exciting summer.
“I’m hoping it will be an international internship,” she said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to study abroad because of swimming but I really want that chance to kind of leave the U.S. and experience different cultures. Probably Switzerland or Germany. England would also be right.”
Tickets for the 29th Annual Peach of an Athlete Role Model Banquet sponsored by the Boys Scouts of America, are $250 per person, $2,000 per table of eight. For more information, call (770)-956-3177