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Born to swim

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Carmel’s Amy Bilquist’s blazing run may lead to Olympics

By Mark Ambrogi

The last 18 months have been a wild wave for Amy Bilquist.

When Bilquist moved with her family from Goodyear, Ariz., in the summer of 2013 she knew little about Carmel Swim Club and still considered herself a volleyball player and a swimmer.

Fast forward to now and the Carmel High School senior is being touted as possibly the school’s first Olympic swimmer.

“It’s so crazy to me that people are using my name and Olympian in the same sentence,” said Bilquist, who will swim for the University of California next season. “But it’s so flattering and so honored that people see me in that light. I wanted to do the best thing for my team and myself. Hopefully become an Olympian that’s one of my goals. I’m going to try to push anyone I can achieve it. It doesn’t scare me people are saying that. It gets me motivated to come to practice and do what I love.”

Bilquist and her Carmel girls swimming teammates are aiming for the team’s 29th consecutive state  championship. Bilquist won the 50 and 100-yard freestyle, setting a state record in the 100 in 48.93 seconds, and was on two winning relay teams in last year’s state meet. Not long after that, Carmel swimming coach Chris Plumb noticed a big leap in her ability and she’s kept progressing.

“She’s way ahead of where she was a year ago,” Plumb said. “She’s swimming faster and much stronger. She’s much more prepared to handle the big stage. She proven that over and over again.”

Bilquist won two silver medals and one gold on relays at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar in early December. Bilquist was on the second-place 200 freestyle relay team in the final. She earned her other medals by competing in the prelims in mixed 200 free relay (gold) and 400 women’s relay (silver). Bilquist had previously won five medals, including four golds, at the Pan Pacific meet in Hawaii in August.

Plumb said he is not shying away from talk of Bilquist in the 2016 Olympics anymore.

“I certainly believe she has good a chance as anybody,” Plumb said. “She’s improving at a tremendous rate. She needs to continue at this rate to be there.”

It doesn’t hurt that Bilquist, 17, is 6-foot-2. She credits the Carmel Swim Club’s weight-room program with helping her strength.

“When I moved here, I was very weak. I couldn’t even do a pull-up,” she said. “I can do about six pull-ups. I’ve been tall my whole life and it’s been hard for me to gain muscle and keep up with my growing body.”

Beyond her height and natural ability, Plumb said Bilquist is mentally suited to succeed.

“She’s driven to be the best,” Plumb said. “You see it with the questions she asks. She challenges me and it’s my job to challenge her back. She highly motivated to be the best and she does the things in the pool every day to get there. It’s a rare combination when you put that talent and work ethic together.”

Bilquist began swimming competitively at age 4.

“I was basically swimming when I was walking,” she said.

Her father Brent swam collegiately and played water polo at Princeton. Yet Bilquist said her parents have never pushed her to swim and left the decision of giving up volleyball to her.

“The motivation has turned intrinsic for me and I found it within myself, which was hard  for me growing up because I was shaky about the sport and didn’t have a lot of self-confidence in it,” Bilquist said. “This season especially I feel a little more confident in the water. I really feel I put my mind to it, I can achieve it.”

Her dad agreed his daughter is self-motivated.

“She drives herself a lot harder than any parent ever could,” Brent said.

Since Bilquist was 10, she played volleyball along with swimming. She didn’t give up volleyball until she got to Carmel and learned how many hours were required to train at Carmel.

“When I moved here I really had to focus on which one I wanted to became great at and not just be OK in both,” Bilquist said. “I chose swimming and I’m really glad I did.”

Her father credited Plumb and Carmel Swim Club associate head coach Ian Murray for helping Bilquist’s rapid rise both mentally and physically.

“It’s pretty amazing how much they care about the kid just as much as they care about the swimmer,” he said.

Bilquist feeds off the energy from club. She said she knew knew nothing of the team’s string of state championships when she got to Carmel. Her father said he didn’t know all the details, either, only knowing that the school has a strong program when he decided Carmel would be the best place to live after taking a job with AmeriCold Logistics in Indianapolis.

“At first I thought they were a little obsessive about swimming,” Bilquist said. “But it kind of grew on me. I learned they’re super passionate about it and it spread on to me.”

Meet Amy Bilquist

Age: 17 (birthday is Aug. 11). Born in Edina, Minn. Has brother Brian, 26, played basketball and baseball in high school and sister Berit, 25, competed in volleyball and track and field.

Most interesting place you’ve visited: “Hawaii was the most beautiful. We went there for Junior Pan Pacific (meet). But Qatar (site of World Championships) was the most interesting. Being in the Middle East, things are a lot different. You just get such a respect for other cultures with the diversity. I don’t think I would be exposed to that without swimming.”

What made you pick University of California as your college choice: “It came down to Georgia, USC, University of Arizona and Cal. It really came down to where I felt most at home and where I felt I could excel both as a person and an athlete. I definitely thought Cal could offer me the best opportunities. I love the team. I clicked with them immediately and the academics there are out of this world. The diversity was just so different and the breath of fresh air for me.”

How do you relax: “I hang out with my friends a lot. When we’re not at the pool, we’re hanging together watching a movie, going to dinner, relaxing.”

Favorite restaurant: “I really liked Benihana last time I went. It was really great.”

Favorite type of music: “It changes a lot but I’m very into Beyonce right now.”

Favorite movie: “I would say ‘Miracle’ the hockey one (about 1980 U.S. Olympic team).”

Favorite TV show: “Grey’s Anatomy.”


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