Every four summers when the Olympic Games occur, swim trials must take place to determine the United States Olympic swim team. The trials, held in Omaha, are an eight day event that puts the country’s finest swimmers to the test. Select club swimmers from across the city are given the distinguished opportunity of volunteering. Senior Valeria Welk was given this unique opportunity this June. Welk described the opportunity as “ a sought after thing” and says as a volunteer “you get to see the Olympic idols you grew up watching, go and swim, even if you’re backstage”.
All volunteers must be under 18, and recommended by their club coach. Welk and the club team she swam for at the time of the trials, Omaha Swim Federation, were able to volunteer in June as basket carriers. Swimmers competing in the trials, typically wear a lot of warm up gear to keep their muscles warm before entering the water. Before starting their race, swimmers will place all their gear in laundry baskets. Basket carriers are responsible for running the swimmer’s warmup gear from the block where they start, back to the athlete’s lounge, before the race ends. Welk says, “For most races, you had plenty of time”, to get the baskets back to the athletes lounge. Races like the 50-meter freestyle proved to a harder challenge, because they typically are over in less than a minute. For races of this length, the entire basket carry staff would be called in, Welk said “everyone one would be sprinting down the halls trying to get the baskets to the athletes in time”. Even though this part of the job was challenging, there are many enjoyable parts to volunteering.
Part of volunteering requires walking through the athlete’s lounge every morning. Welk says this was one of the coolest aspects of being a volunteer, “you’d walk through and see that person has three Olympic gold medals, or that person’s going to break a world record in a month, and you’d just walk right past them, and try to keep your eyes down”. While at the trials Welk also enjoyed seeing legends such as Caleb Dressel, who she described as “my favorite swimmer of all time” and Katie Ledecky compete. Welk commented “ it was awesome to see everyone who was new this Olympics, because it was such a young Olympics” she particularly enjoyed seeing Katie Grimes. Welk notes that as Grimes walked by she thought, “this girl is two years younger than me, and she’s going to the Olympics”. In addition to seeing incredible athletes compete, Welk was able to meet “the top names in swimming, which was amazing,” such as Michael Phelps, who introduced himself to all basket carriers.
Welk has been swimming since she was eight years old, and although she had a “love hate relationship” with the sport, she has taken it seriously since middle school. She says “with a sport that is so mental, where you can’t hear anything except the water, and your own thoughts, you have to have such a good connection, and relationship with your team”, it is this relationship that has motivated Welk to stick with the sport. Although she will be past the age limit for volunteers by the next Olympic swim trials, she hopes to bring this connection and passion for the sport, if she’s able to volunteer again.