Zoe Skirboll heads for another swim at the Olympic trials
SwimmingOlympic Trials

Zoe Skirboll heads for another swim at the Olympic trials

With days remaining until nation's best swimmers arrive in Indianapolis, Aspinwall native is ready

Zoe Skirboll celebrates after she and her team become NCAA Division 1 National Champions in swimming again. (Photo courtesy of Jim Skirboll)
Zoe Skirboll celebrates after she and her team become NCAA Division 1 National Champions in swimming again. (Photo courtesy of Jim Skirboll)

Swimming phenom Zoe Skirboll is dipping her toes in familiar waters. For the second time, Skirboll, 19, is swimming at the Olympic trials.

Between June 15-23, nearly 1,000 swimmers are competing in Indianapolis for 52 spots on Team USA.

Skirboll is ready for the challenge.

Her mindset, she said, is different than what it was a few years ago.

“I definitely think the first time around I had no idea what to expect, like at all,” she said.

In 2021, Skirboll was the only member of her squad, Racer X Aquatics, to qualify for the trials.

“It was just me and my dad,” she said.

The father-daughter duo — Jim Skirboll is Racer X’s head coach — traveled to Omaha, Nebraska, together but “I didn’t really know that many people there,” Skirboll said. “I was kind of just doing my own thing, just kind of in awe of what was going on.”

COVID restrictions also altered the experience.

“There were no spectators besides immediate family,” Skirboll said.

Cardboard cutouts of people were placed on seats to make the venue seem populated.

This time around, the trials are going to feel “electric,” Skirboll said.

The historic event is at Lucas Oil Stadium — home of the Indianapolis Colts.

Organizers said it’s the first time the program will be held inside a football stadium.

“I think that will bring a lot of energy into the environment,” Skirboll said.

The Pittsburgher is slated to swim the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke. She swam those events, along with the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle, at the last trials. But there’s another difference between Indianapolis and Omaha: this go-around, Skirboll is traveling with her team.

The media studies major and leadership minor just finished her sophomore year at the University of Virginia.

In March, the Atlantic Coast Conference swimming powerhouse won its fourth consecutive NCAA title.

“The environment of that meet was everything I had dreamed of,” Skirboll said. “My team is pretty much my family since being here, and it’s been such an honor to be part of this team and to experience something like that with your best friends.”

Zoe Skirboll, second from left, and teammates celebrate after helping University of Virginia win its fourth straight NCAA Division 1 championship in swimming. (Photo courtesy of Jim Skirboll)

Skirboll said that although she’s the lone Jewish swimmer on this year’s team, “there are a lot of Jewish people here at UVA, so that’s nice — there’s still a community.”

Since arriving in Charlottesville two years ago, Skirboll has focused on swimming and personal growth.

Despite making the All-ACC Academic Team, ACC Academic Honor Roll and finishing 12th in the 200 IM at the ACC Championships, Skirboll’s freshmen year was challenging.

“My first year here was a little hard,” she said. “We definitely had some setbacks, I think as a community and me personally, which definitely didn’t help my  swimming or my academics.”

Skirboll’s sophomore season was different.

“Coming back to school, I kind of knew the lay of the land,” she said. “I was definitely more confident in myself in the pool and out of the pool.”

The Cavalier qualified for the NCAAs and posted a personal best of 1:58.07 in the 200 IM prelims.

Days later, she and her championship-winning teammates were back in the weight room training for the Olympic trials.

Skirboll can’t wait to see the results.

“I think UVA is going to kind of take over the pool there,” she said. “We pretty much have our whole women’s team competing, which is a really big deal. And then most of our men will also be competing, so we’re gonna have a really strong team there and it’s gonna be really exciting to watch.”

The trials are expected to bring thousands of cheering fans, dozens of news outlets and countless eyes glued to gifted athletes who make memories from milliseconds.

Skirboll is both ready and amazed.

“I mean, the girls on my team who are previous Olympians, I still look up to them and I’m like, ‘You people are my role model. I see you guys every day and  you’re  also my best friends,’” she said. “I am starstruck by them because I’m like, ‘Wow, you’ve been able to accomplish so much in this sport. I know how much you sacrifice for that.’”

But Skirboll’s awe doesn’t extend only to the sport’s biggest names.

“There’s a lot of people I’m surrounded by on my team that just — what they go through and put themselves through — even though the results might not be making an Olympic team, I’m still starstruck by them daily,” she said.

Skirboll finds herself increasingly impressed “by more of the little things that people do, and not just being an Olympian or being a professional athlete,” she added. “I think it’s seeing the small details they put in, the sacrifice.”

Goggles or not, Skirboll will get an even greater sight of those details in the coming days.

As she heads for Indianapolis, she remains appreciative of what’s brought her this far.

“My whole entire life, my whole entire swimming career, I just want to thank people who have been supporting me, and reading about me and reaching out to me. I don’t think they know how much that really means to someone, how much that helps someone grow and want to achieve their goals for people other than themselves,” she said. “My community back home, I want to achieve things for them, not just for myself.”

The athlete and her teammates are leaving for the trials on June 13. The stakes are seemingly higher than ever, but Skirboll has never been more grounded — she’s navigated these waters before.

“I’ve found my own path and the way I want to live and keep swimming,” she said. “I’m still finding joy inside of the sport, even with all the pressures.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

read more: