Degnan pushes her own limits

Arms wide open: Guilderland’s Rachael Degnan holds five different swimming records at the State University of New York at Cobleskill, and this season the sophomore bested three of her previous records from last year. Here, Degnan takes a deep breath during a 200-yard butterfly race; her record time is 2:22.44.

Star swimmer: Multiple race wins and accolades have given Rachael Degnan, of Guilderland, plenty to smile about over the last two years as SUNY Cobleskill’s best swimmer. Last month, Degnan earned First Team All-North Eastern Athletic Conference honors in the 200-yard butterfly, 500-yard freestyle, and 1,650-yard freestyle after leading Cobleskill to a second place finish at the conference championships.

GUILDERLAND — Some people were born to race, and, since Rachael Degnan is usually swimming ahead of everyone else, it can seem like a competition against her own time.

Over two years at the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, Degnan, of Guilderland, hasn’t lost many races. Her coach, Nicole Damiano, said that Degnan has “maybe” lost on one occasion.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve lost more than once,” said Degnan, referring to a 200-yard butterfly race this year. However, she couldn’t think of any other.

“She’s the real deal, my go-to girl,” Damiano said. “When she says she’s going to do something, she does it. She’s one mentally tough kid.”

Degnan, 20, holds five different Cobleskill swimming records — 1,650-yard freestyle; 19:52.95; 200-yard butterfly, 2:22.44; 200-yard individual medley, 2:26.43; 400-yard individual medley, 5:03.00; and 800-yard freestyle relay, 9:12.87 — and three of those records were set this season. Degnan bested her original 1,650-yard freestyle time by 35 seconds this year.

“I just want to keep beating my best times,” said Degnan, a sophomore. “I’m always pushing myself.”

Cobleskill finished second in the North Eastern Athletic Conference Championships last month, and the team was led by Degnan, who finished first in the 200-yard butterfly, 500-yard freestyle, and 1,650-yard freestyle. She earned First Team All-NEAC honors.

Coach Damiano told The Enterprise that, by far, Degnan is one of the most competitive swimmers she’s ever coached. Day in and day out, Damiano said, Degnan is asking her how she can improve her swimming.

“I won’t be happy unless I do my best,” Degnan said.

Degnan usually touches the pool wall first, so she’s especially happy this year. The Cobleskill records give her a sense of real accomplishment because, during her junior year at Guilderland, she thought about quitting the Guilderville swim team.

“I had to change my view of the sport,” said Degnan. “I thought I would be just OK in college, so breaking a record was amazing. I proved myself.”

Picking up swimming at age 8 after watching her older sister, Sarah, Degnan has swum ever since, but likes to take the summer off so she doesn’t get burned out. She joined the Guilderville team in seventh grade, but never won a sectional event.

Winning races didn’t become a regular occurrence until Degnan was at Cobleskill. Damiano said that Degnan is a diverse swimmer with natural talent, and she always scores the most points for the Fighting Tigers.

Degnan said that her swimming diversity is recent, too. College competition has longer races, so Degnan trained for distance, which helped her preparation for shorter races. The 1,650-yard freestyle is 66 laps.

“I’m geared for distance, and I never really knew what Coach would put out, but she pushed me along,” said Degnan. “I do not like sprinting, so I’ll take distance any day.”

Freestyle and butterfly are Degnan’s strongest strokes, she said, and backstroke is the worst because she struggles to put her arms back far enough. “Butterfly takes a lot of endurance, and the last 100 yards is a mental push,” she said. “Freestyle is mental, too, but easier.”

To stay in her zone during a 66-lap race, Degnan tries to block everything out except for Coach Damiano, who may be telling her to swim faster. Also, she likes to sing rap songs in her head because of the tempo, she said; it’s not too slow and not too fast.

As much as Degnan hates the 200-yard butterfly, she said, it’s her favorite because it’s the event that she has to push herself through the most. Never settling, and working hard in the pool has overlapped into her schoolwork, but she’s still not certain on a career path.

Degnan’s excellent swimming over the past two years may have earned her a transfer to a different college. She said that she’s waiting for some letters to arrive in the mail.

“My competitiveness kept growing, and I wanted those times,” Degnan said. “I’ve been behind, felt like giving up, but I always push to the finish.”

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