It was all a bit surprising to Siena swimmer Kelsey Helin.
She was named the NCAA Walk-on Swimmer of the Year by collegeswimmingawards.-com for her performance this spring in her junior season. She only accidentally learned she was nominated, as her coach, Paul Kueterman, didn’t tell her he had submitted her name.
Then one of her teammates was surfing the web one day and came across the list of nominees.
“She found this list of the nominees, and she saw my name,” Helin said. “So she texted me, and I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ I had no idea. I guess he wanted it to be a surprise. It was really cool. I think just even getting the nomination was a big honor for me.
“My coach has always been very proud of me, but it’s very cool to have somebody recognize who I was as a swimmer from outside our conference.”
Helin’s specialty is the breaststroke, but she also swims the 400 individual medley and the breaststroke leg of the medley relays.
This season, she dropped two seconds from her top 100 breaststroke time, finishing fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championships in 1:06.57. She was sixth in the 200 breaststroke with a time of 2:25, four seconds faster than last season.
Her best time in the 400 IM is 4:50, but she is more proud of her times in the breaststroke.
Her time drops came thanks to her conditioning and a little bit of fine-tuning of her technique.
“It was a combination of everything, but I definitely think the hard work was more in the physical conditioning, and we included some dry-land training,” she said. “I’ve been pushing myself in practices, getting my technique down, turning my hands in a certain position so I can be as fast as possible.”
Over the offseason, Helin runs and lifts weights to stay in shape. She works as a lifeguard at North Carolina’s Carolina Beach, where the lifeguards work out every morning and get in some open-water swimming in the ocean.
Especially if the water rolls the way the ocean does, most open-water swimmers stick to freestyle. Helin said it isn’t easy, but she changes it up a bit when she can and works on her stroke of choice.
“During morning swims, I’ll sometimes throw in some breaststroke or backstroke, but it’s definitely difficult,” she said. “You don’t move as far without freestyle.”
Though she was recognized as the nation’s top non-scholarship swimmer, Helin said she doesn’t give too much thought to parlaying that into a scholarship for her senior year.
“That’s not really one of my main purposes,” she said. “I’ve thought about it, but I enjoy it too much to worry about it. I get scholarships for academics. I just love being a part of the team and being able to swim, so it’s not at the forefront of my mind.”
Striving to be a good teammate, both in her events and out of the pool, is a good priority to have. That approach, from her and from her teammates, is what she expects will help the Saints improve next season on their fifth-place finish in the MAAC Championships this spring.
“We are a very close-knit team, and we can support each other very well,” Helin said. “That’s the most important thing. Once we do that, we can be pretty unstoppable.”