Deciding she can't pursue both speed in the pool and a life on the stage, North Harford senior Katie Kopajtic plans to hang up her swimsuit

The Baltimore Sun

Before her senior year, Katie Kopajtic decided this was going to be her final season of competitive swimming.

She also decided she was going to stay involved in drama.

It explains why she has pushed herself so hard this winter.

The North Harford senior is one of the county's top swimmers. She also has an ensemble role in the school's coming production of South Pacific.

So her day goes something like this: She usually attends rehearsals from 2:30 to 3:30 before heading to swimming until 4:30. After that, Kopajtic returns to the play. She has made every rehearsal since they began Jan. 2 and is on schedule with the choreography and dancing.

Kopajtic also sometimes goes back to the pool at night to swim with the Harford Hurricanes swim club, trying to get the extra work she thinks she needs to go out on top.

Next year, Kopajtic will attend UMBC, which has a strong swimming program. But she plans to be on the stage so she can devote all of her energy to becoming a successful actress.

The competitive swimming career will end after she participates in a league this summer.

"I've been swimming so much, and I'm in such good shape and I'm faster than I've ever been," said Kopajtic, 18. "Now it's going to come to an end. That's kind of sad.

"I know that if I swam on [the UMBC] team, I'd have to give 100 percent," she said. "That would take away from what I want to do with acting. I wouldn't be able to devote the time to my major that I would like to."

Kopajtic always has had a passion for acting and swimming. She has been swimming since she was 5 and has been performing since she was 11, acting in church and school productions. She'll play a nurse in North Harford's March production of South Pacific.

Theresa Kopajtic empathizes with her daughter. Katie's older sister, Lauren, swam at the University of Connecticut for two years before deciding it was taking up too much of her time.

"Katie's still dropping times and getting fast, but she's making this career choice to pursue acting," her mother said. "You have to give up a lot to swim on a college team, but she doesn't want to give up her true love, which is acting."

Kopajtic has had to weave the acting and swimming around a tough academic schedule, which includes Advanced Placement biology, English and art history.

Still, she thought it was important to find time to rejoin the Hurricanes' swim club. She had been with them for about eight years before skipping the past two winters.

This winter, she thought she needed the extra work, and it has paid off. Kopajtic's times have improved, and she's on the verge of qualifying for the YMCA Short Course Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in April, needing to improve her time in the 50-yard freestyle by just 0.13 seconds.

Disappointment last year in the county championships also inspired Kopajtic. She developed mononucleosis and tried to swim through it, taking second in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle. Kopajtic also was on the victorious 200 freestyle relay.

"That was probably one of the hardest weeks of my life," she said. "I was tired. I couldn't breathe through my nose. My throat was sore. I'm just glad I placed second."

North Harford coach Melissa Winter said Kopajtic's determination that week sent a message to her teammates.

"She works hard, and when she was sick last year and did not win, she still swam, even though she knew she would not be No. 1," Winter said. "Katie leads by example, and she is always determined to be the best."

Kopajtic pointed toward the county championship meet last week so she could go out a winner.

Despite battling a cold, Kopajtic's high school swimming finale proved successful. She won the 50 freestyle (25.67), took second in the 100 freestyle and swam on the victorious 200 freestyle relay and the third-place 200 medley relay.

Kopajtic will compete in the high school regional meet and then swim with the North Harford Neptunes club this summer before turning her energies to the stage at UMBC.

"It's unfortunate that those two pathways conflict so much," she said. "But [acting] is what I want to do with my life, so I have to stick with it."

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