Cardinal Gibbons High School (NC) swimming phenom Claire Curzan has racked up a vast array of accolades for her pool exploits, and she's thrilled about her most recent plaudit - 2022 USA TODAY High School Sports Awards Girls Athlete of the Year.
"It was definitely shocking, but also a huge honor," the Stanford University-bound Curzan said regarding the selection. "I was very excited about it. I was honored to even be nominated for this award and to become a finalist. To think that I had won it was absolutely crazy, but I'm super happy and really fortunate. I'm really glad I was able to bring some more notoriety to swimming."
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The USA TODAY High School Sports Awards is the country's largest high school sports recognition program - with 24 in-person local shows nationwide culminating with the national show that captured the true essence of sports, where commitment to the spirit of competition, the pursuit of excellence, the willingness to embrace challenges and the formulation of lifelong bonds intersect.
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Curzan capped her senior season by earning Most Outstanding Swimmer honors at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A Women's Swimming State Championships by virtue of establishing a National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) record in the 100 Butterfly with a time 49.24 seconds. She also delivered a new NFHS record in the 100 Backstroke at 49.61.
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Additionally, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games Silver Medalist helped the Crusaders 200- and 400-Yard Freestyle Relay teams to the top spots in her final high school events.
"I think I really couldn't have asked for a better end to the season, especially with our last relay," Curzan said. "To be able to go and get two relays on the number one podium was fun and memorable to share with my team before I left."
Cardinal Gibbons Swimming and Diving Head Coach Jonah Turner said Curzan's national laurel is well deserved.
"Over the last four years, it's been a lot of fun seeing Claire win numerous awards," he said. "It was really exciting to see her up against elite athletes across the spectrum and not only be nominated, but to be chosen as the Athlete of the Year is a great honor and it was really cool to see her win. It was a great way to cap her career at Cardinal Gibbons."
Curzan's entree to swimming stemmed from familial influence.
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"My parents were big into water safety when I was younger and I have an older brother who is a sophomore in college now," she said. "Being competitive and young, I wanted to see what he was doing, so I joined the swim team with him. I fell in love with the water and just wanted to keep going back to the pool."
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Swimming is also an outlet, per Curzan.
"You can make yourself physically stronger," she said. "And I love that you can push yourself to the limit, see what you can really achieve and be able to strive for cool things. I love being able to meet all of these cool people in the sport and race internationally. That's something I've leaned into more recently and it's been incredible."
In addition to competing in the Tokyo Summer Games, Curzan also recently competed in the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, earning a gold medal in the mixed 4x100-meter medley relay.
"The most fun part is you go through a training camp before you go to the meet location," Curzan said. "For the Olympics, we went to Hawaii for two and a half weeks and for the World Championships we went to Croatia. The Olympics was especially scary, since that was my first big national team trip. It was incredible, because I looked up to so many people on that team for so long. Our meets are always super fun and everyone is so supportive."
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Curzan offered the following regarding her mental approach to meets.
"The biggest thing for me is every race is an opportunity to do something better," she said. "Just making sure you capitalize on every race, have fun and enjoy the moment. Swimming doesn't go for the rest of your life, so being able to make the most of every time I am in the water is one of my goals."
Turner said one of Curzan's prime attributes is her humble nature.
"It did not and has not changed since she came in freshman year - even coming back from the Olympics and coming and swimming on our team this year," he said. "Somebody her caliber, of elite status, she may have been star struck about some of the athletes on the Olympic team, but now she's one of those stars that people feel like they are star struck when the see her. That's the great thing about her. She doesn't let any of that go to her head. She stays humble and focused."
Curzan said when she visited Stanford's campus, there was an undeniable connection.
"The thing about Stanford that stood out to me was how much it felt like home, even though I was 3,000 miles away from home," she said. "I don't think I ever pictured myself going so far away, but I just felt so comfortable around the girls and the coaches. It was like hanging out with a bunch of my friends and doing something I love, being in the water. That was where I was happy and most comfortable."
Turner praised the student-athletes within the Cardinal Gibbons swimming and diving program for the manner in which they embrace life lessons gleaned from the sport.
"Whether it's discipline, time management or hard work and commitment, those are just a few that obviously most swimmers take on and apply when they leave college and head out into the real world," he said. "Every year, the culture is around identifying your role, because everybody matters."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: High School Sports Awards: Humility-centered North Carolina swimming dynamo Claire Curzan reflects on Athlete of the Year selection, more