Olympic dreams await Donahue after college

WKU senior swimmer Claire Donahue moves through the water in the Powell Natatorium pool on Wednesday. Over the last four years at WKU, Donahue has concentrated on the butterfly stroke, placing fourth in the nation for the 100 butterfly at the 2010 NCAA Swimming Championships. Donahue says since she has made significant progress each year with WKU, she will stay here to train for the London Olympics in 2012.

Lucas Aulbach

Though WKU senior swimmer Claire Donahue is finishing her last season of athletic eligibility, she hasn’t taken her final dip in the Powell Natatorium just yet.

After she graduates this summer, Donahue is planning to stick around campus for another year to train for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Head Coach Bruce Marchionda said Donahue is the most decorated swimmer in the school’s history and that her impact on the program is incalculable.

“I’m not sure the impact she’s had on this program can be expressed in words,” he said. 

Marchionda cited the results Donahue’s posted as a big factor in future recruiting.

“The success that she’s had, especially on a national level, has opened up recruiting doors around the world, really,” he said.

Donahue currently holds school records in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly races and holds the Powell Natatorium record for the 50-meter freestyle. 

Last year she competed in the U.S. National Championship, which includes the top collegiate and professional athletes in the country, placing eighth in the 100-meter butterfly.

But her impact on the program is bigger than those numbers indicate. Her teammates said they consider Donahue a leader of the team for not only the results she posts, but also for her work ethic and attitude as well.

Sophomore Laurel Chaney said Donahue was her host during her recruiting trip, and that some of the senior’s greatest strengths are in team-building.

“As soon as I came here, we just hit it off,” Chaney said.  “She made sure that all the freshmen from last year got comfortable with knowing everyone.”

Marchionda agreed Donahue’s work ethic sets a great example.

“What she’s been able to do changes everybody’s attitude, and it changes everybody’s focus,” he said.

Donahue acknowledges the importance of having older leaders on the team, saying the most important values she’s learned at WKU are leadership and teamwork.

“In college more than high school, the way you compete is with your team and with your teammates,” she said.  “You compete for a bigger purpose. It’s kind of cool to see that.”

Donahue’s numbers and grasp on the team concept make her a justifiable candidate for the U.S. Olympic team.  She said the idea of training for the Olympics first entered her mind during her sophomore year, when she saw graduating as an opportunity to spend more time to train.

Donahue hasn’t graduated yet, though, and as of now, WKU is preparing to compete in the upcoming Sun Belt Conference Championships, which take place from Feb. 23-26 in Dallas.

“We’re kind of starting to come down in yardage so we can be prepared for our upcoming meet,” she said.

But the Olympic aspirations will return after the Sun Belt championships have passed.

Marchionda said he believes Donahue has what it takes to qualify in 2012.

“She’s stronger, she’s more physically fit, and she’s more of an athlete,” he said. “And she’s developed that because of her hard work.”