Diving over obstacles

Senior Gabby Baratta reflects on four years of swimming

SWIM%3A+Senior+Gabby+Baratta+after+having+just+finished+a+race

Peter Francis

SWIM: Senior Gabby Baratta after having just finished a race

She stood behind the block, her arms at her side. Taking a deep breath, she stepped onto the very short staircase. Looking straight ahead, she saw the end of the lane, but reaching it would not be the end of the race. She would finish when her feet hit that wall four times.

She adjusted her cap, locked her goggles into place, and closed her eyes. “Take your mark.” Bending down, she brought her right foot back, and loosely gripped the edge of the block.

Brm.”

She pushed out her entire body and dove headfirst into the water. Senior Gabby Baratta had entered the pool.

Although there were physical, social, and even mental conflicts that blocked her way, Baratta managed to dive over them to reach her goals. And there’s still one she’s gritting her teeth down to reach.

“I swam since I was very little, eight months old,” she said. Over the course of multiple years, she soon reached the end of the learning program. “So my mom asked if I wanted to join the swim team,” she recalled. Baratta was then six years old. She didn’t know specifically what “swim team” was, but she loved it. Of course, swimming became more competitive, but all Baratta said was, “it’s all good. You just have to work through it.”

However, she would have never known the struggles she would face. Her freshman year, Baratta dislocated her shoulder not once, but twice. “[It] was not too bad,” she said. “I did some shoulder therapy, and I was still in the water.”

But her junior year, Baratta dislocated her knee twice. “[This] was definitely much harder. The first time it happened, it was over the summer during the time we had break, so I could go back next season. But the second time, it was far [worse]. I had to get an MRI and I was only allowed to pull, meaning I couldn’t kick at all.”

But, Baratta persevered and remained optimistic. “Well, I got really good at pulling, at least!” she said with a laugh. “It’s really tough and I understand why people don’t come back because it’s really frustrating. But, my coach helped me through it and I kept going.”

Aside from health concerns, Baratta faced some conflict between her club team and her school team. “My club coach was not fond of me joining the school team because it’s in the middle of our season,” she said. But, she managed to balance both teams over her four years and she never let her club team get in the way.

“There’s something different about the school team,” she said. “There’s this greater sense of family. Club is more individual and though you’re swimming as a team everyday, it’s not the same feeling. At school meets, everyone’s up on their feet cheering the whole time.”

However, balancing both teams had its difficulties. “I couldn’t go to a lot of the school practices because I had club practices,” she said. “But, I especially liked junior and senior year. I loved being a role model for the underclassmen.”

Junior Angela Guelpen, a member of the school swim team and Baratta’s close friend said, “[She’s] an awesome role model and can always make everyone laugh. She was a great captain, and she always encouraged everyone to try their best.”

Even head swim coach Amanda Bonan and assistant swim coach Arman Fardenesh acknowledged that as captain, Baratta was known for gathering the team for cheers and served as a role model, especially for less experienced swimmers on the team.

And on the school team she swam faster than ever. “She would come in a lap [or two] before everyone else but would still cheer for her teammates while waiting for them to come in,” recalled Guelpen.

Currently, Baratta did face the challenges of never stopping. “I definitely reached a point at one time where I was very unmotivated to swim. It was kind of a senioritis for swimming,” she joked, “but I’m definitely back into it now because my [club] coach said I needed to focus to make my trial cut and he is right.”

Baratta will be attending the University of Nebraska starting in the fall. “It wasn’t the school I imagined myself attending but after visiting there when they recruited me with all expenses covered. I loved the girls on the team and the atmosphere of the city. Luckily, it’s not in the middle of cornfields. The school just clicked with me,” she said.

She has a long list of achievements: placing top five in the states, being first team all county for the past two years, placing in the top 20 at the nationals, being a Scholastic All American for four consecutive years, and placing first in the Bergen County meet of Champions with her best stroke, breaststroke. But there’s still one goal that eludes her.

“I’m hoping to get my Olympic trial cut by the end of this summer and if that doesn’t happen, I should get the US Open cut, which is the next step to trials.” She hopes that during her college career, she will be able to reach her next goal.

In the end, Coach Bonan and Coach Fardanesh wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors and encourage her to work hard each and every single day, to stay focused, and to follow her dreams!

As for now, Baratta can dive in the pool and just keep swimming.