For Stella Zhao, if there’s a lane there’s a way
Columbia College freshman Stella Zhao recently fulfilled a lifelong dream by competing in the Canadian Olympic trials. The swimming star and Ontario native recently sat down with Spectrum for an interview covering her life and what role swimming plays in it.
Spectrum: When did you first start swimming, and could you tell me about how you first got into it?
Stella Zhao: I started swimming through lessons because my sister took lessons. Later I joined a club.
Spectrum: What is your favorite memory of your swimming career?
SZ: My first race after I sustained a really bad injury that put me out of competition for a year. When I finally got to race again, it was an amazing feeling.
Spectrum: What do you love most about swimming?
SZ: I like the challenge. I really like the training. I like pushing myself to do distances and strokes that aren’t my specialty.
Spectrum: Have you learned anything about yourself through swimming, and if so, what? What has swimming given you?
SZ: A lot of things. Hard work gets you places, not necessarily luck. It’s given me a work ethic and also time management skills.
Spectrum: How would you describe your experience as a member of the women’s swim team here at Columbia thus far?
SZ: The biggest difference is that when I came here, I automatically had a group of friends. I got to meet the most hardworking, smartest women at the school. It’s been a really positive experience.
Spectrum: What do you hope to achieve in your next three years here?
SZ: I’d like to return to the Ivy League team, and I’d like to compete in the world championships for Canada.
Spectrum: What is the most challenging aspect of swimming for you?
SZ: The 6 a.m. mornings.
Spectrum: After college, what are your plans for the future regarding swimming?
SZ: I’m going to do recreational swimming to keep in shape. I want to swim in my free time, but I probably won’t do masters because I’m looking to go into finance.
Spectrum: Do you think swimming has changed you in any way?
SZ: It’s definitely shaped a huge part of who I am. I’ve been doing it since I was eight, and I can’t remember not swimming. It got me really competitive. Now I’ve got to win things like Bingo and Scrabble.
Spectrum: Had you ever thought about competing in the Canadian Olympic Trials before getting the opportunity to do so?
SZ: When I was around nine, I volunteered at the event and said, “I want to swim here one day.”
Spectrum: How did you feel about your performance at the trials?
SZ: I didn’t place well, but it was exciting for me to see my teammates’ successes.
Spectrum: What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten regarding swimming/life?
SZ: If you have a lane, then you have a chance. If you get your foot in the door, then go for it.
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