Bootsma nervous while pitching, not swimming

Bootsma nervous while pitching, not swimming

Published Aug. 15, 2012 2:39 p.m. ET

MINNEAPOLIS — Competing in the Olympics comes with a great deal of pressure and plenty of eyes watching you. But the pressure that swimmer Rachel Bootsma faced in the London Olympics was nothing compared to throwing out the first pitch before a Minnesota Twins game.

"I was so nervous," said Bootsma, an Eden Prairie, Minn., native. "I can swim in front of millions, but I know how to swim. I don't know how to pitch a baseball. … I didn't throw the greatest pitch, but that's why I'm a swimmer, not a baseball player."

Wednesday's first pitch at Target Field was just the latest event in what has been a whirlwind for the 18-year-old Bootsma. This past spring, she graduated from Eden Prairie High School, where she won multiple state championships and set the Minnesota state record in multiple events.

Earlier this month, Bootsma competed in her first Olympics in London, swimming the 100-meter backstroke as well as the preliminary round of the 4 x 100 medley relay for Team USA.

"It was amazing," Bootsma said of her Olympic experience. "I had built it up to be so cool, and I was kind of nervous that it wasn't going to be as cool as I anticipated it to be and it exceeded my expectations by a million percent.

Bootsma advanced to the semifinals in the 100-meter backstroke, but her time of 1:00.04 was not fast enough to move her to the finals. In the 100-meter finals, 17-year-old Missy Franklin won the gold.

Bootsma and Franklin became close during the Olympics, so she said she was excited to see her friend win the gold medal with a time in the finals of 58.33 seconds.

"My favorite part was just watching people's reactions after they won or getting their medals. Specifically Missy Franklin winning the 100-meter backstroke," Bootsma said. "That was my race, and I thought it was going to be kind of hard to watch it, but I have never cried so hard after a race and been so happy to watch her receive the gold."

Bootsma eventually won a gold medal of her own as part of the 4x100 medley relay team. Though she didn't swim in the finals, Bootsma helped Team USA advance to the finals by swimming in the preliminary race.

The gold medal was not on display Wednesday at Target Field, as Bootsma plans to keep it in a safe place now that she's had a chance to show it off.

"I'm going to put it in a safety deposit box, but I have shown it to people and I had it at my grad party a couple days ago," she said. "I had it around my neck, so it was really fun."

Bootsma has hardly had time to relax since returning to Minnesota from London. She leaves Thursday morning for college — she'll be a freshman at the University of California-Berkeley, where she'll also compete on the women's swimming and diving team. Before she heads to Cal, though, Bootsma has plans to get a tattoo of the Olympic rings after taking in Wednesday's game at Target Field.

While at Cal, Bootsma will be swimming for a familiar coach. Teri McKeever, who coached Team USA at the 2012 Olympics, is also the head coach at Cal. The Golden Bears are back-to-back defending NCAA champions, so Bootsma will be stepping into a well-established swimming program.

Now that Bootsma has gotten her first taste of the Olympics, she's already looking ahead to 2016. Those Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Bootsma hopes she'll be there to once again chase an Olympic medal.

"I can't wait to get back and work hard," she said. "It's going to be a really fun journey."

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