Featured Freshman Friday: Zoya Wahlstrom

Nearly every swimmer goes through varying stages of excitement and burnout throughout their career, and overcoming the adversity and continuing the love for swimming is the challenge. Zoya Wahlstrom is lucky to have found her love for the sport again. The freshman from Lakeville, Minnesota, has worn caps from several different Minnesota club teams, but her journey to love the sport began before she can remember.

Wahlstrom was born in Targovishte, Bulgaria, and was adopted by her mother, Sara Wahlstrom, at two and half years old. At a young age, she was terrified of the water.

“I have some pictures that show me afraid of the water,” Wahlstrom said. “When I see a picture I almost feel like I remember, if that makes sense. I can kind of remember being scared, but my first memory that I have I was at the YMCA. My mom was in the water and I was able to jump into the water with her, finally able to conquer my fear. From then on, I got into swim lessons and here I am now.”

Wahlstrom was six when she started swimming competitively with South Metro Storm Swim Club, a club in Lakeville. When she was eight, she switched to another club, and then to Team Foxjet when she was 11.

“That was the period in my life when I was getting really good,” Wahlstrom said of her time with Foxjet. “Then, I peaked and it went downhill for a while. It was a really hard time in my life and that’s why we switched teams to my last one, Edina Swim Club. It was really hard to say goodbye to Foxjet just because one coach was with me from when I was 11 to 16, he was just amazing and helped me so much with my swimming. The last move wasn’t necessarily to make my swimming better, it was for me to find my love for swimming again. Edina’s coach helped me do that. They all know how to coach, but it’s the one that you make the connection with that really makes the difference. (Making that move) was the best decision that I’ve ever made. And now I’m here!”

In our final Freshman Friday of the season, KUAthletics.com met up with Wahlstrom to learn about her swimming journey and her path to Kansas.

Why did you decide to swim for KU?
“Honestly, this was the last school that I looked at. I looked at all over, Kansas was the last on my list. My mom was like, ‘Zoya, you have to try Kansas.’ I said, ‘No way, there’s tornadoes,’ you know. Then I just gave it a chance and I came for an unofficial visit. Clark (Campbell) and Jen (Fox) talked to my grandpa and my mom and Haley (Molden) gave us a tour of the campus. I literally fell in love when I saw Kansas. It reminded me so much of home, I just loved it. And the tradition here is unreal. When I came for my official visit I was here for Late Night, and I actually cried. It was so intense, I got goose bumps, it was just amazing. Of course Clark and Jen sold it to me, I just felt comfortable here. I know academics are pretty high standards here. There are so many people to help and support me with my academics and I felt safe and cared for school-wise. I loved the team; I fell in love with all of them when I came for my official visit. The team atmosphere, it makes it a really amazing place to be.”

What are you looking forward to the most about being on this team?
“I’m looking forward to physically becoming a better swimmer. I found my love for swimming again, but I really want to fight for my races again. I was a fireball when I was younger, I just went out and did it and loved it. As you get older things change, I’m ready to get back into competition and push and fight for my event. I’m looking forward to building connections with everyone, going to Big 12s and Nationals, all of that someday. Right now—just because I’m a freshman—I’m just focused on getting through the year and adapting to everything. I’m not looking for anything huge just yet. I’m just trying to achieve best times.

Besides swimming, what are your hobbies?
“I like taking pictures. My mom and I scrapbook together back at home, but I’m more into the photo albums, not necessarily decorating. I do picture frames, stuff like that. I don’t know if listening to music is a hobby but I like doing that, going out and shopping is always fun… If I have time for any of that.”

What is your favorite pool game?
“Sharks and minnows. It’s probably the best game. Yeah, it gets really violent, they’ll start dragging you under the water, it gets rough.”

What is your most memorable swimming moment so far?
“When I was an 11-12, I was at our state championship and it was the best meet ever. I felt so confident, and I always try to go back to that place and remember how it felt. I won some of the events at that meet, so I try to go back to that place and remember what it was like to win and push through when it was hard. Remembering that feeling of being up on the podium and everyone’s clapping for you—it’s the best feeling ever. I know that was when I was little, but it was the best.”

What has been your favorite vacation?
“Hawaii—my family and I went to Maui. Before swimming became a really big part of my life, my family and I went every year. It’s just beautiful. I haven’t been back for a very long time, but I love Hawaii; it’s the best vacation spot ever.”

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
“Hopefully graduated. I would love to go to the Olympics for Bulgaria, that’s always been a dream of mine. Maybe I’ll have a job, I would love to have a job by then. Dating? Maybe engaged? Who knows.”

What is your favorite KU tradition?
“That’s a hard one. I’d have to say the alma mater. I just love all of it! The clapping, the videos before the basketball games, that stuff just gets me every time.”

What is your favorite food?
“I love food, period. I love a good homemade meal, it doesn’t matter what it is. It could be meatloaf, it could be hamburgers… is that even homemade? Whatever, it’s eaten at home so I count it as homemade. It could be a turkey dinner, really anything homemade.”

So, are you looking forward to thanksgiving?
“You have no idea. I literally cannot wait. I’m counting down the days, I’m so excited.”

What is your favorite song or artist to get pumped up to?
“I listen to all sorts of music, honestly. I listen to rap sometimes, I listen to pop, there’s no specific artist because I literally listen to whatever. I’ll listen to Beyonce or Lil Wayne or someone to get me pumped up.”

Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I chew gum when I race, I’ve done it ever since I started swimming. I do it to calm myself. Sometimes it falls out. Depending on the race, I might put it on the roof of my mouth, but usually I’ll actually chew it. It’s always mint. Sometimes I’ll chew it in practice, but every single meet I’ll be chewing gum. I don’t know, it just calms me down. If I don’t have it, I get nervous, and I just think I’ve lost my race already because I don’t have my gum. I don’t chew it as much during school, it’s more of a swimming thing.”

Wahlstrom and the team will host the Kansas Classic in Topeka at Capitol Federal Natatorium November 21-23.

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