CEDAR RAPIDS — As a young swimmer with the Linn-Mar program back in high school, Springville prep Samantha Fitzgerald never knew the sport would become such a huge part of her life.
In the end, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Honestly, I never thought any of this was possible,” said Fitzgerald, who wrapped one of the most successful swimming careers the Coe College women’s program has ever seen competing at the Liberal Arts Championships last month in Decorah.
“I can walk away from my swimming career knowing I did just about everything I could have possibly hoped for. Actually, just being able to swim at the collegiate level was enough for me. I never even thought that was something I’d get to do, but it’s been a great career.”
Fitzgerald made an immediate splash with the Kohawk program setting records as a mere freshman, and the former Springville star just kept getting better and better each and every winter.
“My first year here at Coe made me realize I could accomplish a lot more than I thought I was capable of, coming in” Fitzgerald said. “Having some early success just made me want to work that much harder to get better, too.”
Fitzgerald holds several school records, including the 100 breaststroke, 200 breaststroke and 200 individual medley.
“Our team has grown incredibly over the last three years,” she said. “When I started here we had about 20 members on the team. Now we’re up well over 30 and just continue to grow. I think we’re one of the best teams in the conference and I don’t see that changing anytime soon either, even with me graduating.”
Fitzgerald has had to juggle a daunting schedule over the last four years just to be able to swim at the collegiate level, but she never considered all the time she made to the sport as a sacrifice.
“When you’re doing something you love, it’s not work,” said Fitzgerald, who is double majoring in chemistry and biochemistry and plans on attending medical school to become a doctor.
“For me, swimming is actually a way to relax and get away from all the papers and exams and the stress of the day. It helped me set a schedule early in my college career and allowed me to make sure I kept on task with everything I needed to do.”
Fitzgerald also served a term as the Coe College student body vice-president and also volunteers her time for numerous causes on and off campus.
The Coe senior went out in style competing at the Liberal Arts Championships, winning the 100 breaststroke championship for the fourth time in a row with a time of 1-minute, 6.87-seconds.
Fitzgerald actually still holds the Liberal Arts record in the event when she claimed the title back in 2015 with a 1:05.80 clocking.
Fitzgerald was just getting started as she also helped her Coe team to runner-up finishes in the 200-yard freestyle relay, 200-yard medley relay, 400-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay events.
Fitzgerald also scored a fifth-place finish individually with her 2:29.72 clocking in the 200-yard breaststroke while also adding a sixth-place scoring performance in the 50-yard freestyle (25.01).
As a team the Coe College women scored 430 points at the four-day event and trailed only champion Franklin College who finished with 815.5 points.
“Looking back at my career, there are a lot of things I’m going to miss,” Fitzgerald said. “We did a lot of traveling over the years. Two trips to Puerto Rico, one to Southern California and one to West Palm Beach Florida. Just spending time with my teammates on those trips was amazing and are moments I’ll never forget.”
Though her college career may be over, Fitzgerald isn’t ready to hop out of the water just yet.
“I can see swimming being a part of my life for a long time yet,” she said. “I could still compete myself for USA swimming or maybe someday down the road get into coaching. There are a lot of different leagues out there and Team USA clubs. I’d love to be able to share my knowledge of the sport with younger swimmers.”
For a girl who wasn’t sure she had what it took to compete on the big stage, Fitzgerald can walk away with her head held high as one of the best swimmers the school has seen.
“I think I was able to make my mark here,” she said.
Indeed she has.