Katie Trace did her part to help the Ohio State women's swimming and diving team win its first Big Ten championship in 34 years, participating on two runner-up relays and competing in three individual events.
As far as Buckeyes assistant coach Mike Hulme was concerned, any fans watching the 2017 Upper Arlington graduate and her teammates compete at the conference meet Feb. 19-22 in Iowa City, Iowa, never would have been able to tell that Trace had been sick for most of the previous three weeks.
"She was definitely not herself at the Big Ten meet, but I don't know if I've ever seen an athlete put that aside like she did," Hulme said. "She was struggling to just do the things that come naturally for her, but I don't know if I've seen anybody put that aside like she did for the sake of the team. She didn't really let anybody know she was struggling. She was still pulling people up, she was still being a great leader. It was incredible to watch.
"If you knew what she was expecting to do, you might have been able to tell (she was sick), but the way she was interacting with her teammates and in terms of how she carried herself, she still scored in all of her events. She did a fantastic job."
Trace finished her junior season by helping the 200-yard medley relay (1 minute, 35.17 seconds) and 800 freestyle relay (7:00.3) to second-place finishes, even as she placed 11th in both the 200 individual medley (1:58.17) and 400 IM (4:12.1) and 17th in the 200 butterfly (1:58.65).
"It wasn't a great time to get sick," Trace said last week. "It was an obstacle to overcome to keep healthy but not let a lot of my work go to waste. I wanted to be a part of our success."
Ohio State won just four events but used its depth to score a meet-record 1,503.5 points, 197 ahead of runner-up Michigan.
Trace was named a College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America All-American for her relay efforts, the latest accomplishment in a career that has seen her qualify for the NCAA meet in six events -- five of them relays -- and drop 5.53 seconds in her 200 IM over the past three years, from 2:02.85 to 1:57.32.
Trace was a four-time state champion and 11-time All-American at UA, where she helped the Golden Bears to Division I state titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
She earned the Buckeye Spirit Award this season, a distinction given to a swimmer with an outstanding team-oriented ethic.
"Swimming can really become a grind," Hulme said. "Sets are pretty brutal. A lot of people have the mentality of just grinding through, pushing through, and Katie brings a passion and energy that elevates everywhere around her. ...
"There are a lot of swimmers that on their good days are really good and on their bad days, they kind of hide. She brings it every day and she is pretty tenacious. She is curious about the sport. She asks a lot of questions."
Trace, who is majoring in communications, qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in the 200 fly, 200 IM and 400 IM and still plans to compete next year. The trials and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were postponed one year because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Trace competed in the 2016 Olympic Trials, before her senior year at UA, finishing 47th in the 400 IM. She swam alongside several former Bears, including her older brother, Thomas, himself a former Buckeye swimmer.
"It's cool to think about how different things are now. I'd actually just committed to swim at Ohio State and Thomas was on the team, so we'd both qualified and he let me sit with Ohio State's team," Katie Trace said. "I was talking with the coaches and remember feeling like I was so cool sitting with the big kids. Flash forward four or five years and now I am the cool kid. It's funny how much has changed in four years. Getting the opportunity to end my career at one of these meets is going to be emotional, I know. I want one really good last hurrah."