“I just fell in love with the sport and the people around me”: Katie McCarthy’s journey as a swimmer


courtesy of Katie McCarthy

Katie McCarthy hugs teammates after state championship win.

Lynn-Clara Tun, Writer

From the moment she first dipped her toes into the pool, Katie McCarthy knew swimming would be her future. “I joined [the Edina Swim Club] when I was about five and I just fell in love with the sport and the people around me,” she said. Now, as a senior finishing her sixth and final year on Edina Girls’ Swim and Dive, McCarthy is considered one of the best all-around swimmers in Minnesota. This November, McCarthy led the Edina team to the state championship and was chosen to be Star Tribune’s Metro Girls Swimmer of the Year due to her excellence in every event.

McCarthy has an extensive list of records, including the team records and Art Downey Aquatic Center records for her favorite events, the 500-yard freestyle and 200-yard freestyle relay, as well as the pool record for the 200-yard individual medley at the Edina Aquatic Center. 

In the spring of 2021, she qualified for the Olympic Trials. “It had always been in the back of my mind that I could qualify, but it happened out of nowhere,” McCarthy said. “I was super proud of that, all the work I had put in during COVID and getting to come out of that and seeing amazing results.” One of McCarthy’s coaches, Jeff Mace, reflects on how she has improved over the years. “[Katie] started out very dedicated [and] she still is. You could see that early on she had the desire to be even better. In seventh grade, [Katie] qualified out of lane number one for the state meet. It was an outstanding swim and I still remember it today,” he said.

This year, McCarthy is serving as captain of the Edina Girls’ Swim and Dive team. As captain she has a variety of duties such as designing team apparel and helping younger swimmers. “She’s very determined and reflective…she leads by example,” Mace said. “During practice, when the team is given sets, she’s already in her brain, figuring out a plan.” 

Katie McCarthy’s family plays a large part in her swimming career. Her older sister, Kelli McCarthy, is her role model. Kelli McCarthy captained the team as a senior while Katie McCarthy was in seventh grade. “My older sister started [on] swim team when she was young. All my siblings and I joined the Edina Swim Club [after]. She showed me what the team was [about], how to work hard, and how to have fun,” Katie McCarthy said. She qualified for the state meet as a middle schooler, a feat allowing her to swim with her sister. “…it was her last meet and my first. Getting to swim alongside her was cool. She went off to the U of M and [I watch] her thrive academically and in swimming,” she said.

Nowadays, Katie McCarthy swims alongside her younger sister, Libbi McCarthy. Together, they have established a few pre-meet traditions. “My little sister and I always go to Starbucks and Jimmy Johns and get the same order every time. We head to the pool a little early to relax and get prepared for the meet,” Katie McCarthy said. 

McCarthy’s parents, her biggest supporters, attend every swim meet. “Before every race…I look up and I wave at my parents. It’s nice to know that they’re there watching and cheering me on,” she said.

McCarthy also credits her coaches for shaping her into the athlete she is today. “Coach Jeff Mace and my club coach, Jeff Rodriguez…both believed in me more than I believed in myself and showed me that I was capable of a lot more than I was. They helped me gain the confidence to be able to do everything that I have done and even more as I look to the upcoming years,” she said.

McCarthy believes her team’s support has also encouraged her as a swimmer. “It takes more than one person to work hard in the pool every day. It kind of takes a village to be a team,” she said. “Your teammates turn into family and they’re lifelong friends I know I will always have.”

Her teammates note that they feel the same way. “I remember at the end of the [state] meet [Katie] goes ‘We did it!’ when we won. Even though she won two individual events, I know what she cared about the most was the team winning. She wants the team to do well at the end of the season. Her dedication at practice every single day is really inspiring. She gets through the brutal practices with a smile on her face, which is motivating to everyone,” senior teammate Anna Schrag said.

McCarthy is incredibly proud of the entire team for their state championship victory in November. “We came into the season as the underdogs…we had a lot of work cut out for us. Seeing everybody, my teammates and the coaches that helped us get there, perform well, and getting to take home the championship was one of my proudest moments,” she said. 

In 2021, McCarthy committed to the University of Minnesota for Division I swimming “I looked at other schools too—at first I didn’t really want to go to the U of M—but after taking a visit there, the coaches and the team made it feel like home. They made me feel very valued as a swimmer and a person,” McCarthy said. When she graduates, McCarthy knows she will miss her team the most. “The Edina Swim and Dive team is something you will never find anywhere else. The atmosphere at practice, everyone constantly giving each other high fives, and all the other little things,” she said. 

Libbi McCarthy explains how she and the team will miss Katie McCarthy just as much. “She’s inspired me to work hard and push myself through all the hard sets. Her enthusiasm about the sport is just so great and keeps us going. She connects with everyone on the team…and seeing her accomplish all of her goals…it’s a great experience. I won’t be able to swim with her anymore, but now we all have the task of filling her shoes,” she said.

For aspiring swimmers and athletes, McCarthy’s biggest piece of advice is to work hard and cherish the time spent on the team. “You can always swim fast but it takes hard work to [achieve] your goals. Swimming and other sports are so hard mentally and physically, but if you’re not having fun with it, it’s so miserable. Have fun with your teammates and cherish the time because it flies by.”