It’s an Olympic success story that’s still being written: an All-American girl who displays physical and mental discipline to overcome health obstacles and beat the record of her idol. For swimmer Kelsi Worrell, the fairy-tale ending would be a podium finish in Rio this August. And that chapter seems like it’s about to be written.
The first of six children, Kelsi was born on July 15, 1994, in Voorhees Township. There in South Jersey, the budding sprint butterfly and freestyle swimmer belonged to the Jersey Storm Swim Team. Under the direction of Coach Garrett Clark, she earned a string of early successes.
In her high school swimming career, Kelsi was named Rancocas Valley High School Swim Team MVP and Burlington County Swimmer of the Year for four consecutive years.
Breakouts with the Cards
Since graduating in 2012, Kelsi swims as a University of Louisville Cardinal under Head Coach Arthur Albiero. Despite facing several obstacles during her freshman year – including a severely sprained ankle and mononucleosis – Kelsi still managed to keep her head above the water.
During her junior year as a Cardinal, Kelsi won Pan Am Gold in the 100 butterfly; it was her first international competition.
Kelsi is best known for her mental fortitude in the pool, which crosses over into her academic life. The Exercise Science major was recently named to the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-District 2 At-Large team, which recognizes student athletes for their accomplishments in sport and in the classroom.
This year, the senior won the Honda Sports Award for swimming and diving; she was also named the ACC Women’s Swimmer of the Year for the second consecutive year. To top it off, she broke a Big East record … her own!
Not many swimmers can say that they broke the record set by their childhood idol … and then broke their own record the following year. Kelsi Worrell can!
At the 2015 NCAA championships, she broke the 100-yard butterfly record set 13 years prior by Natalie Coughlin; Kelsi was the first woman to break 50 seconds in that event. This year, she outdid herself by shaving four-tenths of a second off of her time to finish at 49:43.
Those aren’t her only records: Kelsi swam on the 4x100 medley relay team – along with Courtney Bartholomew, Katie Meili, and Simone Manuel – at the Duel in the Pool last December; the foursome broke the world record, beating out the Europe All-Stars.
Mind Over Matter
Although a very strong starter and turner, Kelsi admits that her biggest worry in the pool is breaking the 15-meter mark; this is the longest distance swimmers are allowed to kick under water when coming off of the wall. Worrell has faced disqualification before for exceeding 15 meters and knows that it could happen again.
Another challenge is her asthma. Kelsi says that, as she gets older, her condition has steadily improved; she seems to have found the right medications that work for her. Her own intuition and knowledge about making adjustments as necessary have allowed her to reduce and limit her asthma attacks while swimming.
Coach Albiero, who helps her train for the Olympic trials, says that Kelsi has learned to take extra breaks or cut her swims short in order to help reduce her attacks.
The Road to Rio
The next stop for Worrell is joining 20 of her Louisville team members at the Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, June 26 through July 3. Coach Albiero believes that it won’t be long until the name Kelsi Worrell is ranked alongside Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin.
The best athletes have both the physical abilities and the mental discipline to excel. In the world of competitive swimming, rising star Worrell has demonstrated that she has what it takes to achieve Olympic glory in Rio this summer.