The Mooney High senior has recovered from a broken kneecap and is in the state meet for the second straight year.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Rachael Feurtado climbed the stairs inside the Beeghly Center pool at Youngstown State University Monday afternoon and walked past two people sitting down on a balcony bench.
"Congratulations," one of them said. "Good luck this weekend."
"Thanks," Feurtado said. "I'm really excited."
The climb was sort of a metaphor of the past months for the senior at Cardinal Mooney High. Feurtado will make her second-straight trip to the Division II state championship when she competes in the 100 and 200 freestyle this weekend at C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton.
Getting back has been an uphill climb.
Injury: Last October, Feurtado broke her kneecap in a car accident and was unable to swim until mid-January. Feurtado has been swimming since she was 10 and, until the accident, had never been out of a pool longer than a month.
"Considering all that has happened, I'm a little surprised to be here," she said. "I missed [swimming] so much. I would come in and watch and just relax by the edge of the pool. But you know what? It might have actually helped me. I had time to watch and to think about things."
When she started swimming again, her times were down and she worried about getting back to state. Those fears were erased last weekend when she took seventh in both the 100 and 200 freestyle to earn two at-large berths.
"I really didn't know what to expect," she said. "My knee is fully recovered, but I was scared. But I felt really good and I finally put it together mentally and physically."
Feurtado competed in the 200 and 500 freestyle at state last year, but was eliminated in the preliminaries. She works out with YSU coach Jackie Bak and trains with Warren JFK junior Becky Bertuzzi, who will also compete in the 200 freestyle this weekend.
The only one: Feurtado is Mooney's only swimmer.
"Everyone says it must be hard, but the only thing I miss out on is relays," she said. "To be honest, I'm happy I don't have a team. I love working with Jackie and I wouldn't get to do that if I had a school coach. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Feurtado will attend the University of Tampa this fall to major in Criminal Justice.
"I don't want to be a cop; I think I'd rather work behind the scenes," she said. "The campus is beautiful there and I love the swimming coach. It's just a great place."
Her teachers have been wishing her luck this week and her mother, Margaret, has been praying for her.
"I don't really have any expectations," she said. "I'm just happy to be there."
And in a way, there was something fitting about Feurtado sitting high in the bleachers at Beeghly Center Monday afternoon.
Because after all she's been through the past three months, she's finally climbed back on top.