The first time senior Claire Birchenough ever entered a pool was when her dad threw her in when she was two years old. Anyone who knows Birchenough, would assume that the University of Wisconsin-Madison commit miraculously found a way to glide through the water at such a young age. Instead, she almost drowned.
Encouraged by her dad, Jim Birchenough, a successful swimmer who made the Olympic Trials for Canada in the 1980s, she joined the North Bay Aquatics swim team (NBA) when she just five years old.
“I was kind of forced into it at first, but by the time I was ten I began to really like it. I didn’t appreciate it when I was younger because it was really cold and I just wanted to enjoy my childhood,” Birchenough said.
Although Birchenough has tried other sports, like soccer, the community feel is what brings her back to swimming each season. For the past 13 years, she has a been a part of NBA and has built close relationships with nearly every member.
“It’s like family. There are 30 people on our senior team and we are all so close. That’s why I didn’t stick with soccer or anything because I couldn’t leave those people,” Birchenough said.
Along with training together, Birchenough has had vast success accompanying her NBA and Redwood teammates during relays. As a freshman in 2015, Birchenough was a member of the MCAL winning 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay teams. That same year the 200-yard medley relay team finished in fifth in NCS and set a school record at 1:45.42. This year she was a member of the 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay teams, both of which won MCALs and finished fourth and sixth in NCS, respectively.
Although Birchenough has grown to love the team aspect of swimming, she enjoys the freedom of racing as individual in terms of choosing her races and performing alone.
“It is fun being on your own and swimming as an individual and also being able to choose what races you want to do,” Birchenough said.
Along with swimming for North Bay Aquatics, Birchenough swims with Redwood’s swim team during the spring. Combined, both teams regimens amount to at least one swim related activity every day of the week. Birchenough’s Redwood coach, Fred Ferroggiaro, claims that her long-lasting commitment to swimming is what has made her so successful.
“For the last 10 years she has swam year-round, which means 10 workouts a week, which means getting up early to swim multiple times a week, which means sacrificing socially by not going to some parties,” Ferroggiaro said. “It takes that to get to her level. There are no shortcuts to get to her level.”
This hard work has led to an impressive track record as a Redwood swimmer. As a junior, Birchenough ranked first in MCALs and third in NCS for the 100-yard freestyle. This year she ranked second in MCALs and fifth in NCS with a time of 51.52 seconds. In her other event, the 100-yard breaststroke, Birchenough finished second in MCALs in 2017 and 2018. Additionally, during NCS in 2017 she finished with a time of 1:03.52, which got her fifth place and a school record.
Impressive times and top finishes in locals meets caught the eyes of D1 colleges and Birchenough decided to commit to University of Wisconsin-Madison at the beginning of senior year.
“It was such a big relief because that was something I was so nervous about. Even freshman year I was worried because I wanted to go to a super good college and swim at a D1 school,” Birchenough said. “But now that it’s all over I just feel proud of myself that I was able to make it to this point.”