Kaitlin Wingert became the first swimmer in Messiah College Swimmingâs history to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championships.
Finding unexpected triumph in great difficulty
By Livia Ungurean
Kaitlin Wingert was born into a family of swimmers; since the age of four, she has been swimming competitively. She was supported and challenged by her coaches, who also happened to be her aunt and uncle up until high school.
As Wingert searched for a college to attend, she considered Messiah College her top option. She wanted to attend a Christian college that would put emphasis on her spiritual development with God first, followed by academics and athletics. Now a junior at Messiah, Wingert has a passion for language. In addition to an English major with a Secondary Education Certification, Wingert is currently pursuing a French minor as well. As she challenges herself academically, Wingert found herself facing other unexpected challenges in the pool.
Wingert faced many trials this season. As a student athlete, she found herself struggling with the decision to “redshirt” this season. In 2014, Wingert underwent sinus and adenoid surgery. This past season, she developed a severe sinus infection mid-September that turned into MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is harder to treat than most infections. This forced Wingert to train out of the water for about two weeks, until the end of October.
With her medical struggles, Wingert had to decide whether she was going to compete this season. According to the NCAA, “student-athletes who practice or compete after the first date of competition in their sport use up one season in their sport.” Wingert had up to her first competition to decide whether or not she would compete this season. She called her mom, prayed about the decision and decided to compete. Despite her decision, Wingert considered her goal of making it to the NCAA championship loss, and replaced her mentality with enjoying the season and seeing what God has in store for her.
Due to the construction of the new Falcon Fitness Center and Wingert’s medical condition, swimming practices became difficult to coordinate. Wingert sometimes trained off-campus and held herself accountable as she practiced. She treasured that time and found that “spending alone time exercising is very restorative.” She missed the high fives and positive encouragement, and credits her team with how far she has come. “I don’t think this would have been possible. It was about the team, and it was about each of us doing our individual jobs,” Wingert said.
Teammate Daniel Jessen shares, “Katie’s someone who won’t let any circumstance get in her way. No pool construction, not MRSA, not schedule conflicts, not even a sick day. She’s the single most determined person I’ve ever met. She makes no excuse. She simply shrugs it off, puts her head down, and digs deep for strength.”
Nancy Luley, head coach Messiah College Swimming says that “Katie embodies the true spirit of a student-athlete. She is focused, excelling in both the classroom and the pool. She is always willing to do whatever is best for the team. It is a privilege to coach Katie and the other athletes of the Messiah College Men's and Women's Swimming Team,” Luley shared.
God had a big plan for Wingert’s swim season this year. She won gold in the 100 Freestyle, 200 IM, and 200 Freestyle, and helped her team take gold in 800 Freestyle Relay, 200 Freestyle Relay, and 400 Freestyle Relay at the MAC Championships.
After being named MAC Swimmer of the Year, Wingert became the first swimmer in Messiah College Swimming’s history (men’s or women’s) to qualify for the national event. She qualified with her 100 Freestyle time of 51.36 at the MAC Championships. Because Wingert qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 100 Freestyle, she is also allowed to compete in two other events of her choosing. They will be the 100 Fly and the 50 Freestyle.
Along the journey with her teammates and coaches, Wingert could not be more grateful for this opportunity. During her personal hardship, Wingert found that “God uses the most broken of people. When we’re willing to drop our personal desires, God uses us in ways that we couldn’t have even desired for ourselves.”
The NCAA Championships will run from Wednesday, March 15 through Saturday, March 18 at the Conroe ISD Natatorium in Shenandoah, Texas. Fans are encouraged to follow GoMessiah.com for a full preview of Wingert's NCAA competitions.