Each day Anna Wodny walks into Herb Drew Pool in Cloquet, she not only readies to swim, but she continues to conquer something much more defying than entering the chilly water at the start of daily practice.
Wodny suffers from chronic Lyme disease, an infection from a tick bite when she was a child. As a result, the freshman home-schooled student from rural Esko has battled joint aches, muscle soreness and fatigue, yet has used her time in the water to become one of Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's premiere swimmers this fall.
"It's one of the few activities I could do that made me feel normal," said Wodny of her favorite sport. "I was bitten when I was 9 or 10, but then started swimming when I was 11, fell in love and have been doing it ever since. It's what I love to do more than anything."
For the 15-year-old, that passion began quickly. Starting her career in Superior, Wodny then advanced to Duluth's North Shore swim club, before making the Lumberjacks swim team in seventh grade. That's when CEC Coach Stacia Grayson first saw Wodny.
"It brings her a lot of comfort," Grayson said of Wodny, who swims throughout the calendar year. "She's a great swimmer who seems to really love it. She's a pretty mature swimmer; the girls look up to her. I think a lot of them think that she's older than she really is."
Grayson explained Wodny was one of CEC's stronger swimmers this season, as the 5-foot-5 speedster has added freestyle to her usual butterfly stroke this year. Competing at the Northeast Range triangular meet in Babbitt, Minn., Tuesday evening, Wodny said her main events include the 100-yard butterfly, as well as her newly-developed 200- and 500-yard freestyle individual races.
"She's done the 200 free relay, 400 free relay and 200 individual medley, too," added Grayson about Wodny's involvement in all three team relays throughout the season. "She's helps the team out a lot."
Cloquet senior Kristina Erickson concurred.
"I'd say she's ahead of where I was at that age," admitted Erickson. "She probably has the best technique on the team and she'll do whatever the team needs her to do. She's a very versatile swimmer."
Like her versatility, skills and, most of all, enthusiasm for the sport, Wodny said her Lyme disease has gotten better over time. She will next lead her teammates into the Section 5A preliminaries and finals Nov. 9-10 in Grand Rapids, where - win or lose - Wodny said it's been a pleasurable year, despite some struggles.
"I've loved this experience with these girls," she said, while on the bus ride to Babbitt. "Even if we don't win a lot, we have an exciting team with a lot of girls moving up and getting better."
Grayson said Wodny has molded into a full-time varsity swimmer this season, while Erickson said she'll likely be back from college to watch her teammate take to the water in the sport she loves most.
"I mean, she's good now, I'm sure she'll be phenomenal when she's a junior or senior," Erickson said. "She's very impressive for her age. And she's one I'll be excited to watch in the next of couple years."
"I swim every day, year round," added Wodny. "I can't imagine not having it around me. It's such a big part of my life."