Rock Chalk Weekly: Swimming Side by Side
Written by Allison Ritter, Kansas Communications Student Assistant
Kansas swimmers Gretchen and Lydia Pocisk spent 16 years growing up in the same room at their home in Dayton, Ohio. For three years of high school they woke up, practiced twice a day, went to school, ate and went back to sleep to do it again together the next day. In fall of 2012, Gretchen left home to swim at Kansas—leaving Lydia with her own room and over 600 miles of distance between the sisters. Being only one year apart, Lydia soon began to look at schools she could swim at, finally deciding on KU. Gretchen, a sophomore, and Lydia, a freshman, are no longer roommates, but they are teammates, best friends and even each other’s biggest competition.
Gretchen and Lydia, with their oldest sister Savannah, did a variety of sports growing up, but nothing clicked like swimming did. They were in ballet, track—Lydia did shot put and Gretchen high jump—and even had a short-lived basketball career before realizing they were afraid of the ball. The sisters began swimming with their neighborhood summer league when Lydia was six and Gretchen, seven. When the sisters started to get more serious about their growing talent in the pool, their parents found a year-round team they soon joined.
“Sports are kind of like spaghetti,” their mother, Margot Pocisk, explained. “You throw your kids into everything and it’s like noodles on the wall; whatever sticks is what they’re going to do. We tried out track, basketball, ballet, just about every sport, but swimming was what stuck with them.
“When we first joined a year-round program we picked a team that was really close to us. They started off there and were doing really well. The more you get into swimming, the more you realize it’s a lot more than just swimming laps. We found another program that was focusing more on their technique, so after a few years we switched over and joined the Dayton Raiders team and it totally changed how they swam.”
When Gretchen was a senior in high school, she made the decision to swim collegiately. The Pocisk’s grandfather, Riley Donald Woodson, played basketball for Kansas and was a 1956 graduate of KU’s medical school. Gretchen recalled her grandfather’s Jayhawk pride and said that he was part of the reason she started looking at the school.
“It was funny, our grandfather always wanted us to play softball here,” Gretchen said. “I’m not sure why he had that idea. We were afraid of the ball in basketball, did he really think we could throw or hit a ball? I started looking at Kansas and I really liked it and everything it had. I started talking to (Kansas head coach) Clark (Campbell) and Jen (Fox), and going on my recruiting trips my number one choice was always Kansas. When I finally came to KU on my official visit I hoped that I would like it as much as I had talked about it, and it didn’t disappoint.”
The same year, tensions grew between the two sisters. Having a sister as a roommate meant spending plenty of time together, maybe too much. With Gretchen about to go away for school and Lydia to soon begin looking, the two thought that they would finally separate.
“We were going to morning practice together, we went to school together, we were going to afternoon practice together, going home together and going to bed at the same time in the same room,” Gretchen said. “It got a little rough. There was a lot of togetherness. By the time I was a senior I was ready to go away for school. That’s kind of how we decided that we weren’t going to go the same place for college; we were going to start our own paths.”
Lydia’s final year of high school swimming without her older sister was different, something she didn’t realize until Thanksgiving when Gretchen came home for three days. It was the first time they had seen each other since Gretchen had left in August.
“When I saw her I was like, ‘Hey, I kind of miss you,'” Lydia recalled. “It was nice to get that break from each other because tensions were building up but when I saw her I didn’t want her to leave me again.
“Swimming without her was really weird because she was a great leader for our school and a captain for the team. It was different just because I’m used to being the little sister. It was different to be considered a leader just because I wasn’t used to it—that was always my older sister.”
When Lydia started to look at schools, her parents encouraged her to look away from Kansas. Because of the togetherness in high school, college would be a time for each to grow independently. Lydia and her parents came to visit Gretchen on Family Weekend, when Lydia said was the time she realized that she may end up a Jayhawk.
“I’m not saying my parents made a mistake in saying I shouldn’t go to the same school as Gretchen, because I understood the reasoning and we did start getting feisty together,” Lydia said. “I went on a couple more recruiting trips after Family Weekend and found that I compared other programs to what Kansas had. I liked bits and pieces of other teams, but I never really found something that had it all, like KU did. I knew how close the entire team was here, and I just never saw that at other schools.”
November marks the early signing period for athletes looking to swim collegiately. The spring offers another opportunity, but most look to sign early to avoid the risk of coaches awarding all the scholarship money. In early November, assistant coach Jen Fox asked Gretchen how her younger sister’s recruitment process was going. When Gretchen explained that Lydia hadn’t found a school she really loved, Fox thought about the opportunity.
“The next day,” Gretchen said, “Jen pulled me aside after practice and said, ‘I know it’s really late, but do you care if we start recruiting your sister?’ I thought it was a great idea. I texted Lydia that night and told her Jen was probably going to call her. Of course she was kind of hesitant because we were both set on going to different schools.”
Lydia committed to swim at Kansas in fall 2013. This year, the sisters live just one floor apart. The two are closer than ever and consider each other to be best friends. They both agreed that their favorite thing to do outside of swimming is to go shopping.
“If we need alone time from people, being together doesn’t count,” Gretchen said. “If I need alone time, I go hang out with Lydia.”
When asked to describe each other in one word, Lydia described Gretchen as “giggly,” saying that her older sister is always making jokes and making her feel better when she has a bad day. Margot agreed, describing her as “bubbly,” because she is always laughing.
Gretchen described her younger sister as a “spitfire,” saying she always has a fire in her that comes out of nowhere, in all aspects of life whether it be swimming, school or her humor. Her mother described her as “determined,” explaining that she has always been that way toward her goals.
Swimming together at Kansas has been a new experience for the sisters and their relationship. A changed environment with different coaches and teammates sheds a different light on the sport. The sisters are two of the team’s top performers in the breaststroke events—Lydia holds the second-best time for the team in the 100-yard breaststroke and Gretchen’s best time in the 200-yard breaststroke is the second-fastest for the 2014-15 team. The two are usually even in the same heat, at times racing just one lane apart from each other.
As any pair of sisters competing in the same sport, the tension of the younger sibling beating the older sibling was always present. Lydia recalled having a hard time in high school trying to push herself against her sister, telling herself that it was okay to go faster than Gretchen. As time passed, the sisters became more supportive of each other’s abilities. There are days that Gretchen is faster than Lydia, and days that Lydia is faster than Gretchen.
“At state my senior year, I got fifth and I looked up and saw that my little sister had won,” Gretchen said of her favorite swimming memory together. “We were both crying and hugging during the awards. That went to show that even though we are sisters and I’m the ‘older one’ it’s not a huge deal—we support each other.
“We’ve gotten good about getting behind the blocks, joking around and having a good spirit about putting ourselves through pain in the next minute,” Gretchen continued. “We are teammates and sisters, but we’re competitors as well. I mean, someone has to beat the other! We both work hard and there’s fire with both of our abilities. At the end of the day, we’re going to get out of the pool and high five each other.”
Big 12 rival Iowa State comes to Lawrence for a two-day meet February 6-7, presenting the Jayhawks with challenging competition before heading to the Big 12 Championships at the end of the month. At the conference meet last year, the team finished second overall—the best in program history. The team will turn to the Pocisk sisters to lead in the breaststroke events, where Gretchen placed 11th in the 200-yard breaststroke at the 2014 Big 12 Championships and Lydia placed 59th in the 100-yard breaststroke at the USA Winter Nationals this past December.
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