Katharine Berkoff swims toward 2020 Olympics


    Missoula Hellgate swimmer Katharine Berkoff swims laps after practice. She is often the first one in the pool, and the last one out.

    Missoula swimmer Katharine Berkoff competed in her first Western Zone meet at 12 years old. She went in as the 31st ranked swimmer in the backstroke.

    "Before the meet I asked her, 'What's your goal for the meet?'" her father, Dave Berkoff, said. "And she was probably 12 years old, and she said, "I'm going to win it.' The dad doesn't want to say that's an unrealistic goal, but then she went out there and dropped 6 seconds and won the thing."

    Growing up in a swimming family, Berkoff wanted to follow in her brother and father’s footsteps. As soon as she could walk, she wanted to be in the pool.

    "'Can I be on the swim team, can I be on the swim team?' and I said, 'Not until you can get across the pool without drowning," Dave Berkoff said, "and finally at age 5 she joined the swim team."

    Her older brother, Cale Berkoff, was a great Hellgate swimmer and now swims at Minnesota, and her father is a four-time Olympic medalist.

    "Ever since I was in kindergarten I was like, ‘I want to be in the Olympics someday, because my Dad did it, and why not me too?’" Katharine Berkoff said.

    Her schedule is a testament to her total commitment toward a single goal -- swimming in the 2020 Olympics.

    "We have morning practice Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and then I'll wake up at like 4:50-5," Katharine Berkoff said "Then I come to practice, swim, but then I go to school, and then we have practice again, every afternoon of the week, so Monday through Friday, 3:30 to 5."

    Her coach, Jay Friend, watches her do everything she can to better herself, both in and out of the water. It's not just a commitment to swimming more than 20 hours a week, it's everything from eating better to time management and sacrificing part of her social life.

    "I think every part of her life is how is this going to affect the long-term goal, going to Tokyo in 2020, and then reframing the problems to make sure they don't get in the way of everything else that needs to happen," Friend said.

    "We talked about, OK, we need to make sure that we're eating better foods. We're eating foods that are going to take care of our body better. She was there. She said OK, she's going to make that transition, she did,” Friend added. “Last year it was we need to manage stress and school work better. We can't let school work pile up, and that affects our practice schedule and that kind of stuff. So implementing some more time management skills to make sure she's not overstressed, turning in late assignments, letting her grades slip, while still being able to maintain trainings."

    Friend knows that he asks a lot of Katharine. But he also knows that if she wants to complete her goals she needs to show complete dedication, and she knows it too.

    "Katharine has some really big and uncommon goals, and uncommon goals require uncommon effort and uncommon dedication," Friend said.

    "When I practice, it's always with my goals in mind. I've always kind of felt like I have more to do," Katharine Berkoff said. "I'm not at my goal yet, because it reminds me I need to keep going."

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