The 2012 Olympics in London begin with Opening Ceremonies on July 27. Catch up with athletes from the NOW coverage area with Olympic quests of their own in our "London Calling" feature series.
Sami Pochowski of Muskego and her family recently attended a swimming meet, but it was unlike any they had ever experienced.
"The first night, I had chills during the introductions and while watching the races," Pochowski said. "It was so exciting, just the whole atmosphere."
Her father Scott added, "I had a lump in my throat just to be in that atmosphere. It was so different than the normal swim meet, where you sit in 85 degrees for four or five hours, only to see your daughter swim for a total of about five or six minutes.
"In this environment, you stand on your feet and cheer."
Judging by those comments, the Pochowskis were clearly not watching a typical weekend invitational. Instead, they were at the United States Olympic Trials at Omaha, Neb.
Not there just to watch
They were not just spectators, either - Sami was competing in the 100 breaststroke against all of the elite swimmers in the country.
"I was so blessed to experience that," said the recent Muskego High School graduate and three-time WIAA state champion. "It was a whole new level of excitement."
Pochowski came in 39th in the event with 1 minute, 10.92 seconds, which beat the 1:11.6 she swam at a Junior National meet in August 2011, which qualified her for the trials.
She missed the top 24, which would have advanced her to the semifinals, by about a second, and she was 4.59 seconds behind winner Rebecca Soni, who finished in 1:06.33.
She also moved up seven places from her seed of 46th among more than 120 swimmers.
"I was happy with the swim," she said. "It's the second-fastest time I've ever gone (behind 1:10.59 at those same 2011 Junior Nationals). I was very pleased with it."
Among the world's elite
Muskego athletic director Scott Kugi said, "It is quite an accomplishment to be one of the top 40 swimmers in the nation."
Scott Pochowski took an even closer view, adding, "A coach (at the trials) asked me if I realized that those times will be even faster than those at the Olympics.
"He said 70 of the top 100 swimmers in the world are from the United States, and that our swimmers who finished three through 10 at the trials would likely start on most other countries' teams. That makes you realize just how much competition they face there.
"Sami was in the upper percentages of the world, and she was the fourth best in the 18 and under group for the breaststroke."
The breaststroke was the only event Pochowski swam in at the trials, but for the rest of her four days in Omaha, she certainly experienced many valuable and memorable moments.
"I met so many cool people, especially the athletes," she said. "I got to know some future college teammates (at Florida State University) much better."
She also was in the presence of such swimming luminaries as Soni, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps - but only to a point.
"We were not allowed to ask for photographs or pictures," she explained. "They needed to keep their focus, because (the trials) are what they have trained for over the years. I bumped into them but didn't really talk with them."
Recent pool devotee
Just the fact that Pochowski qualified for the trials was especially notable, considering that she has only been swimming competitively for seven years, and that she has never chosen to lift weights as part of her training.
Instead, she simply kept working hard in the pool, going about 18 hours per week leading up to the trials to increase her endurance.
Now that she has literally tested the waters of the Olympic trials, she can go on to Florida State in the fall, always with an eye toward the next trials in 2016.
"It was good for me to go there (this year's trials)," she said. "I could see what I am getting myself into in the next four years. I was able to get a feel for the competition, which was the best in the world, and I was able to swim my best.
"Now I am off to college, which brings a new level of intensity and competition. I have to be mentally prepared and push myself. I know what it takes to do it (swim in the trials), and now I have to want to put in that effort."
When Pochowski returns to Omaha in four years, Scott will once again watch her take on the country's best swimmers - but this time, perhaps from a better seat.
"We will be more prepared," he said. "When they first announce the ticket sales, we will be in the front row."
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