BLOOMINGTON — At age 11, something about Grace Ariola's backstroke swimming style clicked and the now-17-year-old has been a brilliant backstroker ever since.
Over the same time period in the freestyle, however, the Normal Community High School senior-to-be has produced up-and-down results.
At the moment, Ariola's fortunes in both strokes are on the rise as evidenced by her qualifying for the FINA World Junior Championships Aug. 23-28 in Indianapolis.
“My freestyle has come and gone, but it just took off this last year," said Ariola, who competes for the Bloomington-Normal YMCA Waves.
“Our team is kind of known for being more distance oriented, but this year we’ve kind of changed to fast stuff and that’s been great for me because I’m more sprint oriented. I’m really happy with (my training) because it’s been really hard, but really effective.”
Ariola’s training has been hard enough to give her some minor hip and shoulder issues, but not so hard she’s been sidelined.
Ariola, who has committed to sign with Texas in November, will be competing in Indianapolis in the 18-and-under division of the 50- and 100-meter backstroke events as well as the 50 and 100 freestyle events and the 400 freestyle relay.
In 2015, she qualified for the same meet in Singapore, a 13-time-zone-crossing trip that makes Indianapolis seem like a home meet.
“It’s great because this will be my fifth meet in that pool this year,” she said. “Also, it will be great because it’s a home crowd. There should be a lot of people in there and really exciting.”
This is the third time Ariola will represent the U.S. in international competition since taking up the sport at age 7.
“It’s still pretty awesome,” she said of qualifying. “It’s an honor. Every time, I’m excited.”
As for goals, she is focused on effort instead of outcome.
"It would be nice to finish top three in my events and get medals, but I won’t focus on my time or place — just do my best,” she said.
Ariola qualified by winning the 18-under national title in the 50 freestyle in 25.06 seconds. She also sped 56.01 in the 100 free, 28.43 in the 50 back and 1:00.66 in the 100 back.
Ariola is ranked No. 1 nationally for those 17-under in the 50 free, 100 free and 50 back. She's ranked second in the 100 back.
Worldwide for those born in the year 2000, she's ranked second in the 50 free, fifth in the 50 back, sixth in the 100 back and 10th in the 100 free.
Ariola had a hard time picking a college, but chose Texas over Stanford and California at Berkeley.
“I just loved everything about it,” she said. “I talked to the coach (Carol Capitani) a couple times on the phone. I visited twice — once in December and once in April. Both times, I loved the team. I loved the coaches. I loved the school. It’s warm there, which is great. It seemed a good fit for me.”
Ariola found the recruiting process both agonizing and enjoyable. Choosing a school was the hard part.
"It was just eating at me," she said. "(Recruiting) was a lot of talking on the phone, which at first I was like 'oh no.' It was really fun. I got to meet a lot of new people, talk to them. I got to visit California, which was fun."
She hopes the fun continues during a return visit to Indiana next month by showing her fine form is here to stay.