Our Stories: Maddie Paschal
Resilience and determination turns swimmer into Georgia Tech record holder
Maddie Paschal (As told by Justin Fedich)
"Our Stories" is a RamblinWreck.com feature that provides first-person stories from current Georgia Tech student-athletes on their journey through academics, competition and life once their athletic careers are over. These young men and women represent the ideals of what it means to be a STUDENT-athlete at Georgia Tech. These are their stories.
One hundred yards is a small distance to travel to make history. For me, the journey leading up to the 100 yards stretches further than any body of water can cover.
My name is Madeline Paschal. I am 21 years old, and I am a senior swimmer for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. During my four years on the swim team, I’ve been able to accomplish many of my goals, but the path to reaching them wasn’t always clear. Just like swimming backstroke, I couldn’t always see what was in front of me, but I always believed that if I kept reaching new heights and never gave up, I would get where I was trying to go.
My parents, William and Heather, were both college athletes at St. Joseph’s College, and as a result, they encouraged me and my younger sister Allie to be involved in sports as well. Neither of them swam competitively in college, but I knew from an early age that I loved being in the water.
When I was 6 or 7 years old, my father was recovering from ankle surgery, a result of the wear and tear on his body from years of playing basketball. I had taken swim lessons before, but as he tried to regain flexibility in his ankle, he’d spend plenty of time in the pool. As a result, I would join him, and it was at that young age of 7 that I began swimming competitively.
A native of LaGrange, I joined my local swim club, the Troup County Sharks, which I stayed with through high school. As I grew, I realized that I had many of the physical gifts needed for backstroke. At 6-foot-2, I have a long reach and hyperextended elbows. In addition, I possess a very good kick in the water.
Even though some of my measurables checked out, I still wasn’t convinced at the start of high school that I was good enough to swim for an ACC school like Georgia Tech. I was prepared to compete for a smaller school, but the summer between my sophomore and junior year, my eyes were opened to the possibility.
I was at Georgia Tech for a swim meet, and one of the coaches approached my dad, who at the time was my coach. My dad was told Georgia Tech had interest in me, and they began to recruit me. The relationship continued into my junior year, and the fall of my senior year, I went for an official recruiting trip to tour the campus and to get to know the team. To my surprise, I was offered a spot on the team during that recruiting trip.
I didn’t accept the offer on the spot, but after returning home from another recruiting trip to one more school, I made the decision that Georgia Tech was the place for me.
My freshman year, I struggled to find my footing on the team. As I transitioned to a more rigorous academic and practice schedule, I found myself in unfamiliar territory, not considered as one of the top competitors on the team. When the ACC travel team was announced — a roster that consisted of 18 of the 28 women’s swimmers and divers — and my name wasn’t on that list, I was devastated. It made me question why I was competing.
To make matters worse, I had my appendix removed that offseason. It set back my physical endurance, as I needed to take two weeks out of the water. In that moment, however, I realized how much I would miss the sport if I gave it up forever. I didn’t like being told I couldn’t swim and I especially didn’t like being told I wasn’t good enough. So I trained and practiced until I couldn’t be overlooked any longer.
I improved a great deal my sophomore year, renewing the belief in myself that I was a worthy member of the team. It wasn’t until junior year during the ACC Championships, however, that I became fully grateful that I never gave up on a dream that started in a pool long before I dreamt of coming to Georgia Tech.
As I hit the wall after racing the 100-yard backstroke, I turned and looked at the clock: 54.10. I had broken the school record as a junior. Few moments throughout my four-year college career can top that moment, a culmination of the work I put in from a young age. I also helped top the Georgia Tech record books in the 200-yard freestyle relay, and the 200 and 400-yard medley relay that season. In addition, I am currently ranked fourth in the school’s record books in the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 1:58.42. I was able to improve my school record further this season in the 100-yard backstroke.
While I have much to be proud of with all I’ve accomplished in the pool, I knew my swimming career wouldn’t last forever. This is why I have been so involved with many campus organizations outside of athletics during my time at Georgia Tech. These organizations include the Women’s Recruitment Team, the Society of Women in Business, and the Investments Committee. I’ve most recently accepted a full time position with Acuity Brands in the Atlanta-area, working in the human resources department and shifting through many roles as part of the company’s Leadership Program to find out which exact area I love most. It didn’t take me long in life to figure out a pool was where I belonged in sports, and I’m confident I can quickly find my niche in the professional world as well.
The best advice I’ve ever been given was to never be fully content. When you reach a goal, it is important to celebrate. However, it is even more important to move on and set a new and more challenging goal for yourself. That’s what I’ll be telling the younger swimmers as I move on to the next chapter of my life, and I’ll make sure to tell those who don’t make the ACC travel team as a freshman to keep their heads up because they still have three more years to prove their worth and accomplish their own goals on the team.
I can also find comfort in the fact that as one Paschal leaves, another one takes my place. My sister Allie is going to be a freshman swimmer at Georgia Tech in the fall. One of her best events happens to be backstroke as well.
I feel confident that she will be able to accomplish her own goals when it comes to her swimming career at Georgia Tech. Some of those goals might involve beating many of my best times, but I am in full support of her doing so.