Determination, goal-setting leads swimmer to record-breaking times

During a meet at Grinnell College on Dec. 5-6, the Red Hawks swim team took down nine school records. In the 200 breaststroke, freshman Gabby Horstmeier finished with a time of 2:34.47, breaking the program’s longest-standing record set 23 years ago by Ripon College Athletic Hall of Famer Sara Soffa ’94. Horstmeier also participated in three record-breaking team events.

Her success comes by sheer determination. Horstmeier is from Cottage Grove where she started swimming at the age of 10. “My best friend in fourth grade convinced me that summer swimming would be fun, and we both started together,” Horstmeier says. She swam on teams for the YMCA, Monona Outdoor Club and all four years in high school.

“I really liked the team aspect and how everyone became a family so quickly because you all go through the same workout and tough times together, then seeing the results after your hard work paying off,” she says.

However, she says, swimming did not come naturally. “I was never a standout swimmer,” she says. “I was just an average swimmer all throughout high school and didn’t even go to state (championships).”

But during her senior year, she set some tough goal times for herself and she improved. “It showed me how much preparation really does pay off,” she says.

Horstmeier’s mother works at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Horstmeier planned to attend that school for years. But her mother suggested having a backup school, and Horstmeier started researching private schools in Wisconsin.

“When I came to Ripon College for a tour, I fell in love with the place,” she says. Her strong work ethic and habit of setting serious goals had earned her good grades in high school, and she was offered a Pickard Scholarship to attend Ripon College.

“That helped me tremendously because it would have been very hard to pay for four years at this school without that scholarship,” she says. “I’m glad I put in all the effort I did in high school to get the academics.”

Horstmeier says she never felt she was a good enough swimmer to participate during college, “but when I knew I was going to come to Ripon, I wanted to beat my own times and push myself to go faster,” she says. “I thought it would be fun to stay on a team and have more friends on campus. That was one of the best decisions I made because I love my team.”

She has participated in four meets so far and already has set goals for the rest of the season, which runs through mid-February. “I would like to break the 100 breaststroke (Ripon) record,” she says. “At our last meet, I was about half a second off of breaking it. And I want to break my own record in the 200. I want to keep pushing myself for the rest of the season and see how far I can go. When I watch video of myself swimming, I can see where I can improve, and that motivates me, too.”

Her breaststroke times have been faster this season than ever, and she attributes that to working harder, being motivated and getting encouragement from her teammates. “That stroke feels the best for me,” she says. “I feel really smooth in my stroke, and I feel like I can go forever and I won’t get bored.”

Although she hasn’t yet declared a major, she is leaning toward English. “I really enjoy being able to make people feel things and play with people’s emotions,” she says. “I really like writing and telling stories in interesting ways that keep people interested. Also I really like editing. A lot of friends come to me with papers to edit, and friends at UW-Madison even email me things to edit.

“I push myself to do my best in everything and put all of my effort into that. I want to have the best grades that I can. In high school, I was in the national honor society. I want to continue striving to do my best here, as well. That’s what got me here.”

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