Tori Beller photo by Maddie Washburn, Nebraska Communications
Tori Beller photo by Maddie Washburn, Nebraska Communications

Small footprints lead from the ladder out of the pool all the way around the lapped lanes and slide lines.

The steps come to a stop at the base of the diving board.

Not even three feet above the water, it mocks her with curiosity and adventure.

A daring choice for the young girl.

Five-year-old Morgan McCafferty had one dream: to jump off the diving board. But to do this, she had to pass a swim test. After four hours and multiple failed tests, a lifeguard recommended swim lessons to her parents.

By age 7, McCafferty was swimming year round, and by the time high school rolled around, the Olympic Trials were a glimmer in the future, a dream she had to fulfill.

“I won my first state title when I was 10, and I remember driving home and thinking, ‘I’m gonna get out of Ohio. This is my ticket,’” McCafferty said.

By age 18, she was swimming at the 2016 trials with her eye on the Olympics.

McCafferty, currently an assistant coach for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln swim and dive team, was a four-year letterwinner for the Huskers.

“Swimming is interesting because when you go to big meets like nationals, even local sectionals, or regionals, all those big meets, there’s going to be Olympians there,” she said.

From a young age, swimmers are drilled with discipline and often dedicate their lives to the sport. For the passionate ones, the Olympic trials can be a shining light at the end of the tunnel.

“Almost every swimmer that goes to the collegiate level thinks about making the trials,” McCafferty said.

After making it to the 2016 trials and seeing that goal become a reality, McCafferty said she started experiencing burnout. She felt like her whole life had been dedicated to one thing; her whole identity was solidified in what she was able to do in the pool.

“Right now, I’m just tired,” McCafferty said. “Looking forward, I want to find something away from swimming … I do think I’ll come back to it at some point.”

Proving that athlete burnout ebbs and flows, McCafferty said she would love to create a swimming club in a low income community in West Oahu where her mom and stepdad currently live. Working with Coach Pablo Morales, has given her the ability to learn from one of the best in the sport.

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Huskers coach and gold-medalist Pablo Morales

Morales won a relay gold and two silver medals at the 1984 Summer Olympics and set a world record in the 100-meter butterfly at the trials. He stressed the importance of being present in practice and appreciating the workouts in and out of the pool.

“Every stroke, every lift, every early morning swim has a purpose. That’s what I drill into my athletes — that everything we’re doing here will help them,” Morales said.

One of Morales’ swimmers, Tori Beeler, graduated from UNL in December 2020 and is currently training to compete in the trials. She was known for her backstroke, but breaststroke was her calling.

“In the summer of 2016, I dropped eight seconds in the 100-meter breast and missed the trials cut by 0.4 seconds,” Beeler said. “After that, I had it set in my mind that my last meet I ever do will be the 2020 trials, because I knew 2020 would be my senior year.”

COVID-19 postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in late March 2020, and four months later, the games were cancelled for over 11,000 athletes who were expected to travel to Tokyo. Team USA was expected to bring around 600 athletes. For those hoping to make it, their dreams were momentarily put on pause.

Almost a year later, the trials are set to return to Omaha on June 13.

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Former UNL swimmer, Tori Beeler

Beeler trained for four years at Nebraska with Morales and was originally planning on competing in the 2020 trials. She questioned whether or not she wanted to pursue her goal.

“It came down to me telling myself I would regret it more if I didn’t try and trials happened than not try and always wonder what could have been,” she said.

Beeler mentioned her own motivation and how losing that immediate goal only made her commitment stronger.

“We say, ‘Don’t try to control things in which you can’t control,’” she said. “I couldn’t control trials being pushed back a year, but I could control how that change affected my goals.”