MISHAWAKA — Bethany Galat knows the clock is ticking on her high school swimming career.
A winner of three state titles in her career, the Penn High School senior won two events in the Northern Indiana Conference meet Saturday, Jan. 18, and now awaits the state tournament, which begins with sectional competition Feb. 8.
“It's hard to believe that my final high school season is here already,” Galat said. “I have have had so much fun not only this year, but all four years at Penn and I've loved every moment. I wouldn't trade my experience here for anything.”
Galat won the 200 IM state title at the IHSAA Finals as a sophomore and then repeated in that event last season, just edging teammate Addisynn Bursch. Then for good measure, Galat also won the title in the 100 breaststroke in 2013.
Since then, Galat has been a key member of the USA Swimming National Junior Team, competing with and against some of the top talent in the country.
How good was she last summer? Good enough to win the 100-meter breaststroke at the U.S. Junior Nationals swim meet in Irvine, Calif., last August.
In spring 2012, she even competed for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team as a 16-year-old.
But once the calendar turned to October, Galat was all about getting ready for the 2013-14 Penn season.
“During our season, Bethany is all in for high school swimming,” Penn coach Jess Preston said. “She is one of our captains this year and I couldn't ask for anything more from a leader.
“She treats every girl with tremendous respect and is a best friend to everyone, from the seniors that have been her teammates for three years, to a first-year freshman. She has a heart of gold and the girls just love her.
“Bethany has been our best swimmer from the first day she came to practice as a freshman and that can sometimes lead to animosity from the upperclassmen. But it's just impossible not to like her because she's so genuine and she's such a hard worker in practice, so it was never a problem for us.”
Preston has had Galat swim several different events for Penn this year, often matching her against an opponent's best swimmer. However, he is planning to have Galat try and defend her two titles once the state tournament gets underway.
“Because she's so versatile, if we have a close meet going, I'll put her against the other team's top swimmer to try and take a win away from them,” Preston admitted. “She never questions us or asks why, she just goes out and gets the job done. She really is a once-a-career kind of athlete.”
Next fall, Galat will take the next step in her career to College Station, Texas, where she'll swim for the Texas A&M Aggies.
“I was thinking of a beautiful campus in Colorado or somewhere like that, but I just felt so comfortable at A&M that I knew it was the best choice for me,” Galat said. “I think I'll get great coaching and the talent of the other girls there is astonishing. Plus, I loved the southern hospitality that everyone showed me.”
The one goal that is out there is a possible berth with the U.S. Olympic team sometime in the future, perhaps as early as 2016. But thanks to her experience with the USA Swimming National Junior Team, Galat knows just how tough that can be.
“Of course being an Olympian is a dream, but I have plenty of other goals out there to achieve before I start thinking too much about the Olympics,” Galat said. “I want to finish my high school career strong and then show I can compete at the NCAA level. I also really want to get some experience in international competition and get the chance to travel all over the world.
“I know how tough the competition is and how much better I'll need to be. But I love swimming and racing the best, so I'm very happy to be getting that opportunity in the next few years.”
Galat will get some major national exposure this week when she'll be featured in Sports Illustrated's “Faces in the Crowd,” a longtime staple in the magazine.