As the solo swimmer from Mercy High School, senior Grace Swoboda’s experience has been quite different from other high school athletes. “I swim with kids from Brownell Talbot, Roncalli, and Concordia as part of one team,” Swoboda said. “I love my school, but I do wish we had enough people to make our own team.” Jimmy Parmenter, Brownell Talbot’s head swim coach, thinks highly of Swoboda. “Grace has an amazing feel for the water, and that’s something you can’t teach. She can swim everything, so she gives us a great mainstay to build around. It doesn’t matter what event we put her in, she’ll step up and do a great job.”
Swoboda began swim lessons at Ralston High School at three years old. “I joined my first summer recreational team at age seven. I decided to take the sport to the next level at age nine where I joined the Sarpy County Swim Club. It’s amazing to see my own progress starting from getting only participation ribbons to where I am today.”
She loves swimming because it’s both an individual and a team sport. “I get to challenge myself and rely on myself, while at the same time getting the benefits of being a part of a team. I recently switched teams from Sarpy County to Greater Omaha Aquatics (GOAL). I was able to find support from friends on both sides. My friends from the prior team supported me in my decision and my new ones welcomed me with open arms.”
GOAL swim coach Tom Beck believes Swoboda is an extremely coachable athlete. “She really takes advantage of feedback and focuses herself at practice to improve her technique. She can calm herself and perform well under pressure situations. Grace has been a pleasure to coach and is really improving week by week right now.”
Swoboda needed the support of her swim teams when her younger sister, Lizzy, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2021. Although doctors initially thought Lizzy was suffering from migraines, an MRI showed a brain tumor the size of a softball. “Cancer is a rollercoaster of days, and really good days can turn drastic in mere moments,” Swoboda shared.
Swoboda’s high school swim team supported her through her younger sister Lizzy’s death, even putting #LoveLizzy on the back of their state shirts or writing it on their arms. “State swimming was a week before her death, and right after the prelims session I found out that she wasn’t going to live much longer.” Despite Lizzy going on hospice care, Swoboda was able to momentarily escape her grief by focusing on swimming. “I still swam the finals session and placed 6th in the 100 breaststroke. Her death didn’t stop me because I knew she was rooting for me the whole time, and she still is. Grief can stop a lot of people from moving forward, but I wouldn’t let it stop me then and it won’t now.”
Lizzy was 11 years old when she died on March 4, 2022. “Lizzy is my inspiration and my angel supporter. She was watching me compete on television the week prior to her death and now she’s watching me from heaven. I keep moving forward because she’d do the same.”
Swoboda is proud that she has never stopped trying to improve her swimming. “There are occasionally those off days, but I always find my way back,” she said. “Swimming has always been a constant thing for me, and I’m proud of my perseverance, progress, and dedication.”
An active member of the Mercy High School community, Swoboda is a member of National Honor Society, student council, and is the newly inducted secretary of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). She is also establishing a mental health club that focuses on ways students can de-stress at school. The activity she’s most passionate about is an organization called Lolo’s Angels. This non-profit organization helps plan activities and raise money for kids with cancer.
Swoboda is an officer and group leader for Lolo’s Angels. She has provided photography services, helped with toy drives, and organized a Halloween get together for the kids and their families. “It’s life changing to be able to be a part of something so much bigger than myself and help people in a situation very similar to my own,” she said. “It’s helped me to be able to do something physical and brighten these kids’ days. I hope one day I will be able to speak to those in the organization or the families about what I went through. We are making an impact at Lolo’s Angels and you can see it.”
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