BUTTE — A future Division I swimmer and Olympic hopeful who has spent the better part of her life on a rigorous training schedule, Catherine Russo conceded maintaining that persistent level of discipline has been a battle lately.
And after learning some three weeks ago that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had been postponed a year in response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus, the Butte High senior admits her strict diet took a brief hit as well.
“I threw my hands up and said ‘I’m going to drown my sorrows in chocolate,’” she said with a chuckle.
Russo, a future Ohio State Buckeye who defended both of her titles at the state swim meet in Great Falls in February and was set to compete at the Olympic Swim Trials in July, has had time to develop a more optimistic outlook on seeing her dream of competing for a place on Team USA sent into a holding pattern for the next year. But upon first receiving the news, she was despondent.
“I was definitely crushed,” she said. “I’ve dreamed about going to trials since I was in third or fourth grade and figured out that 2020 would be my senior year.
“For eight years this is what I’ve wanted to do, to represent Montana. I didn’t even know what to do.”
Still, she recognizes that the sacrifices being made are part of a necessary effort to diminish the spread of COVID-19.
“In the same sense it’s the right call,” she said. “Selfishly, I’m super upset about it. But people’s health and safety is more important than my own goals. But it stinks, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”
With schools shut down, pools closed and Gov. Steve Bullock’s statewide shelter-in-place order in effect through at least through April 24, Russo, like so many others, has settled into quarantined life. But for Russo, who went from swimming some 17 miles a week to being at home most of the day, the transition wasn’t easy.
She had gone from a meticulous training and academic schedule to a life that lacked the structure she had come to thrive on. Russo also said that she’s currently on the longest hiatus from swimming that she can recall.
Suffice it to say, the first week or so of being a fish out of water took a toll on her motivation.
“I was super down in the dumps,” she said.
At her parents’ insistence, she began charting out a daily schedule to help her maintain some level of activity, though replicating thousands of yards of swimming outside of a pool isn’t entirely feasible.
Working out in her home gym, taking the family dogs on walks and evening yoga sessions have replaced arduous swimming sessions. It’s not quite the same as tearing through the water, but it’s kept her limber.
“It’s helped me move and stay level,” she said.
Being at home so much has also provided another added benefit—getting to spend ample time with her family, more than she’s been able to in the past six years.
She's also had time to reflect on her accomplishments at the state swim meet, in which she became a four-time double champion in the 50 free and 100 fly which she said was "an amazing feeling."
But, looking back, she said the most meaningful moment of her final swim meet as a high school athlete wasn't one of her individual titles but competing with her sophomore sister, Isabel, in the 200 medley relay, which the Bulldogs placed fourth in to earn all-state honors.
"I told myself to hold it together until after finals," Russo said. "But I finished that race and started balling. I loved getting to compete with my sister."
With the state largely in lockdown as coronvirus cases continue to climb, Russo said she's confident her hometown will do its part to flatten the curve.
"I know Butte's ability to come together in times of need and fight through something as a community," she said. "I think now more than ever we need to do our part and stay at home. Do it for our parents and grandparents. Do it for the healthcare workers who put their lives on the line everyday."
While the Olympic trials being delayed was a setback, there are some silver linings for Russo. Firstly, since she already advanced to trials, she will not have to requalify. Secondly, when she does head to Omaha, Nebraska, next summer she’ll be doing so after a year of training and competing with Ohio State.
“I think that everything worked out for the best,” she said.