By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Waking up at 5 a.m. for practice and coming back to the pool in the afternoon after lifting at some point during the day is something junior Gabi Shishkoff has been well accustomed to.
Since this will be her 16th year as a competitive swimmer, Shishkoff
knows what it takes to be a committed athlete at the varsity level while still
maintaining the grades needed to stay in Schreyer Honors College.
"I started swimming on a summer league team where I would just do 12-and-a-halfs," Shishkoff said. "I wanted to get faster and one of the coaches from the summer league team was also a coach for a year-round team. He said we should try it out so the next season I practiced with a year-round team and really never looked back."
Jumping into the pool at just 4 years old, Shishkoff did not know where her swimming career would take her. When it came time to go through the recruiting process during her junior year of high school, it was an easy decision to go to Penn State.
"I couldn't imagine myself going any where else because of both the school and team atmospheres," Shishkoff said. "There's nowhere I could go that could compare to the school spirit that Penn State has."
In addition to the school spirit, Shishkoff noted strong team dynamics while she was visiting that helped to separate Penn State from the other schools she was interested in.
"I chose Penn State because we spent a lot of time with the team on my recruiting trip and I could tell the team had a family atmosphere," Shishkoff said. "I also liked how well the guys and girls teams got along and how well they trained together."
Entering college can be an intimidating feeling, but knowing there are 50-60 other teammates that are going through the same challenges and are there to help along the way makes the whole experience different.
"My favorite part about this team is having a built in support system and just a group of friends that is always around," Shishkoff said. "Whenever I have a good swim, my teammates are happy for me and if I have a bad swim there's always someone there to tell me not to give up and to keep going."
Along with the other juniors and seniors on the team, Shishkoff says a change to her role on the team this year is that she is expected to help guide the underclassmen.
"It's been different being expected to be a leader versus being an underclassman," Shishkoff said. "You're the one telling people what's going on and being positive for them."
Helping to lead the underclassman has not been the only difference this year. Shishkoff has also enjoyed the variety of the dryland the coaches have incorporated.
"We did different types of dryland at the beginning of the year like running up hills and Tussey Mountain," Shishkoff said. "I liked it better because it made practices more exciting and we all felt like we accomplished more when we were done with it."
With the Blue-White Intrasquad and a dual meet against WVU already behind the swimmers and divers, Shishkoff won all three of her events at both meets. The rankings on collegeswimming.com show Shishkoff is ranked with the sixth fastest time in the nation so far.
"I have already gone a best time and in-season bests in everything else I've swum so far," Shishkoff said. "I feel like I'm off to a good start and it's a really good sign for the rest of the year."
Swimming requires both physical and mental training to have success. Shishkoff's best racing comes when she has a relaxed frame of mind.
"When I'm at my best, my mindset is to have fun and just to see what I can do," Shishkoff said. "I want to see what happens and not worry about the results before the race."
Shishkoff has had plenty of experience with traveling to meets as well as staying at home for dual meets. She explains that they both have their own unique advantages to them.
"Whether I prefer home or away meets really depends on the meet itself," Shishkoff said. "For dual meets, they are more fun at home because of the atmosphere. Traveling makes the meets bigger and I definitely prefer them for our end of season meets or bigger meets that we rest for."
As a part of the middle-distance training group, Shishkoff trains for distance freestyle events, individual medley events, and the 200-yard butterfly. Of the events she swims most, the 400-yard individual medley is her favorite to race.
"My favorite is the 400 IM," Shishkoff said. "I think it's more fun to race and it's an interesting event because it mixes things up and you get to change up the strokes."
With a few more meets and an invitational between now and the end of December, Shishkoff is already looking forward to the annual training trip that the swimmers go on right after Christmas in Naples, Fla.
"I'm really excited about our training trip because it's fun to be in Florida and just focus on swimming," Shishkoff said. "Being in a different location makes the training better and you are surrounded by all of your friends for over a week."
In order to stay focused and motivated through months of training and competitions, Shishkoff reminds herself of the goals she wants to reach at the end of the season and the feeling of accomplishment when she reaches them.
"I stay motivated during practice and meets by thinking about how amazing of a feeling it is when I finish a race in a meet and meet my goal time, or do really well," Shishkoff said. "I think any swimmer could tell you that seeing your work pay off at a meet is the best feeling in the world."
As the swimmers and divers get further and further into the season, having goals and communicating what needs to be accomplished at checkpoints throughout the year is crucial. Shishkoff has already set goals that will help the team succeed against the other Big Ten opponents.
"My goals this season are to score at dual meets because it's such a great opportunity to contribute to the team, to score top eight at Big Tens, and to make NCAA's for the first time," Shishkoff said.