Interview with NCAA Woman of the Year Laura Barito

What was your favorite part about the process and banquet for the NCAA Women of the Year award, other than being named the Woman of the Year?

The day before the banquet, we got to plant flowers at the “Woman of the Year Legacy Garden.”  I actually was dreading it because I’m pretty awful at gardening, but we got to plant stuff with some youth groups from the area.  They were mostly middle school aged girls and I love working with kids that age.  These girls were hilarious and made what I thought was going to be an awful gardening experience into hours of fun planting flowers, and talking about their favorite sports.  They even got to come to the awards dinner, it was just a lot of fun.

You’re working on your PhD in Mechanical Engineering, more specifically bio-mechanics (right?), what led you to Delware in pursuit of this?

It really wasn’t until this past year that I realized what I wanted to do with my interest in Mechanical Engineering.  I met a teammate’s mother the summer before my senior year who was an ME turned personal trainer.  I just thought she was so cool.  I love coaching and training people and she sounded like she really loved her job.  So I decided to try to fit engineering into my passion for athletics.  So that brought me to biomechanics.  There really aren’t that many great biomechanics programs in the country since it’s such a new field (and actually very different from biomedical engineering, a more widely offered degree but also very new).  It really came down to UD and two other schools, but as soon as I visited UD and saw the facilities I fell in love with the school and the research.  They’re doing some really cool stuff here and it’s exciting to be a part of it.

Are you enjoying helping out with the team at Delaware as much as you thought you would?

For the most part yes!  I LOVE being able to swim with the girls here.  I feel like they really look up to me, coming from a pretty solid swimming background from Stevens.  I really feel like I’ve been given a chance to be a positive influence on this team while I’m here.  Plus they’re a lot of fun to train with!  As a student athlete myself, I’m particularly good at taking care of the small details on the team, such as study sessions, helping with stroke and turn form, etc, while the head coach takes care of the bigger details.

How are you finding a way to continue to train for the Olympic Trials with all that is on your plate right now?

It has definitely made grad school a lot harder to handle.  I’m only taking two classes but trying to balance my research into everything as well.  But I always have this motivation in the back of my head, that with everything I’ve seemed to accomplish just by putting my mind to something, it would be such a waste to throw such an awesome opportunity away (training for the trials).  Besides, swimming is much more fun than my solid mechanics homework!  It’s definitely my stress release from everything.  It’s that 3-5 hours a day I can shut my brain off (and it shows, I miss intervals, mess up sets all the time, I’m like a completely different person, ha).

How is that training going?

It’s…..interesting.  I don’t seem to train like a lot of other people.  I’m doing a separate, very challenging, lifting program with another guy here who is also training for the trials.  I’m also using some workouts my Stevens coach, Brad, is emailing me and swimming on my own a few times a week.  Other days I’m writing my own workouts to do on top of the scheduled college practices, such as extra drylands or my weekly power rack sessions.  I’m having to do a lot of self coaching since I didn’t come here to just swim and hire my own private coach, but it seems to be working out pretty well for now.  I guess I’ll find out in December when I taper!

Will you compete many times other than winter Nationals before Trials?

I’m trying to “race” as much as possible before nationals.  I competed in the UD intrasquad meet, and our Saturday practices are close to meet scenarios.  I might try to make a few club meets with the club swimmers I coach before the trials and possibly a Grand Prix meet in February or March when I normally had NCAAs if I want another shot to improve besides U.S. Nationals in December.

Does it bother you when people pronounce your last name incorrectly?

Haha I just laugh now.  When people do say it right the first time I’m impressed.  Now when people ask me for my last name, if they need to look up a file or something, I just say “Burrito.”  It’s just easier.  It was my nickname at Stevens though.  People are much more likely to remember “Burrito” than Laura.

Follow-up, that being said and recognizing your last name is not pronounced burrito… what is your favorite burrito place?  Chipotle, Moe’s, Qdoba, Fat Burrito, Wily’s, Panchero’s, other?

Haha oh dear, burritos.  Is it bad that I don’t actually eat them?  My freshman and sophomore years at Stevens, I didn’t really watch what I ate a lot, and I ate at Qdoba a lot near the Stevens campus.  Now, my diet is so strict, I usually get sick if I try to eat Mexican food!  People are so disappointed when I tell them I don’t like burritos.

Why Stevens Tech?

I was looking for a good engineering school but I also wanted to swim.  That’s a pretty hard combination to find in a school.  Most d1 schools make it nearly impossible to get an engineering degree while also swimming, and there actually aren’t more than a couple d2 schools with swimming and engineering, so d3 it was.  Trevor, the head coach at Stevens, was the only coach that really showed any interest in me.  He flew me up for a visit and kept in contact with me all year.  Most other schools, even d3 schools, didn’t really seem that excited that I was looking to swim there.  I can kind of look back on it now and laugh, and realize how lucky I am that Trevor saw potential in me that no one else saw.

Why are you so determined to perpetuate the idea that sprinters are lazy by doing nothing in your four years at Stevens? (please note extreme sarcasm here!).

Haha that stereotype is the WORST.  That fueled me at practice sometimes, and I was probably a little overly sensitive about it sometimes.  The distance swimmers always gave us a hard time.  It got so bad at one point that our sprint coach would literally keep us in the pool longer so the distance swimmers wouldn’t be upset that we got out earlier than they did.  It’s actually kind of funny looking back on it the banter that went on between the sprinters and distance swimmers on our team.  I guess I just love proving people wrong.

If you could go back and change one thing from NCAA’s this past year, what would it be?

Oh man, my roommates at the hotel haha.  I was staying in a hotel room with a girl on our team that was sick (not cool for her either!).  The last day of NCAAs I got sick and bombed my 100 free race in the finals.  I thought I was just really nervous because I couldn’t stop shivering, ummm that was definitely a fever.  Oh well.  I got mad at myself and made sure I took track incredibly seriously the next two months.  It was almost like I had to redeem myself for not winning two national titles within 3 days of each other.  I was pretty disappointed in myself, but I guess that ended up helping me!

What advice do you have for the current d3 swimmers reading this right now?

I guess I don’t like the division 3 “mentality” I seemed to have the first couple years of college.  I would say that only recently have I realized that, just because I swam at a d3 school, doesn’t mean I can’t aim to compete with the best.  There are some really fast d3 swimmers out there, some already have their Olympic Trials cuts.  On top of that, I always felt like we trained like a d1 team (we definitely did!).   I’d just say to aim high, and don’t let the label of d3 make you think any less of yourself.  It all comes down to what you want to get out of the sport of swimming, regardless of your division.  (but we’re obviously cooler because we’re not getting paid to do it!)

Who is your celebrity crush?

Ummm this would probably help if I paid more attention to pop culture.  I used to have a huge crush on Heath Ledger, I’m in love with all of his movies.  I’ve had to move on though, sadly.  It’s mostly musicians in that case, like Ben Burnley, the lead singer of Breaking Benjamin, I just love his voice.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I’m a hard rock girl and I grew up playing music, piano, bass, guitar, etc.    My favorite bands are Evanescence and Breaking Benjamin.  I even have a tattoo of some Evanescence lyrics on my ribs (yes it hurt).

If you could have any sandwich in the world for lunch…what would it be?  Spare no detail.

ummm WAWA.  I mean my daily sandwich is PB and J on a wheat bagel, but when I want to treat myself for dinner I get a turkey wheat shorti from Wawa. With all the awesome veggies and grated parmesan cheese.  It’s perfect.

What is the highlight of your athletic career?

Stevens. (so far…..)

Are you willing to share any future goals?

Most of my goals involve work where I can improve people’s lives, particularly in situations where I have personally struggled.  For that reason I really want to become an engineering professor and a coach.  I think both professions take a lot of intelligence and dedication and I really feel like I can create good experiences in both, especially since I have had my fair share of bad experiences in engineering classes and with past coaches.

We greatly appreciate Laura’s time, especially considering how busy she is right now. Best of luck to her in all future endeavors, both in and out of the pool. Oh, and yes, it is bad that you don’t like burritos. How can you not?

Leave a Reply