There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
On Monday night, Torri Huske stood in front of national TV cameras in disbelief. Moments earlier, the 18-year-old Arlington resident and senior at Yorktown High School had just won the finals of the women’s 100-meter butterfly at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials with a time of 55.66 seconds, breaking her own American record set a day earlier. Huske, whose high school graduation is scheduled to take place during the Trials, is officially headed to the Tokyo Olympics.
“It’s more than a dream come true,” Huske told NBC’s Michele Tafoya inside CHI Health Center Arena in Omaha, Nebraska. “I can’t believe it’s happening.”
With the win, Huske, a Stanford University commit, became the latest local swimmer who can add “Olympian” to their resume. “We’re not surprised. In fact, none of us are surprised,” Huske’s father, Jim, tells City Paper. “Because she always swims, the bigger the meet, the better she does, and this was no different. But we’re surprised at how it’s come together so perfectly … That being said, you’re just biting your nails, and you’re relieved.”
In January 2020, I wrote an article exploring why the D.C. area has produced so many Olympic caliber swimmers, and for the story, I interviewed several local up-and-coming swimmers, including Huske. Like many elite swimmers, Huske started swimming at a young age—she estimates probably around age 5 or 6. The sport was just one of the many that her parents had her try. Her favorite, she told City Paper last year, was ice skating. She also enjoyed soccer, running, and Taekwondo. But swimming wasn’t her thing, at least not in the beginning.
“I was always really cold all the time,” Huske said. “And I feel like that was a big factor. Probably for the first like two years … I didn’t really care for it, but I feel like I just kind of stuck with it anyway. I’m not really exactly sure why, but it eventually did start to grow on me and I really liked it.”
So Huske continued swimming, taking pride in the fact that she could see a direct correlation between her hard work and improved times. But the path she chose differed from that of her peers. Huske did not spend her summers competing for a community pool, a popular activity for many high-level junior swimmers, and she also chose to stay with the smaller Arlington Aquatic Club instead joining a larger team like Nation’s Capital Swim Club or the Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club.
It didn’t take long for her club coach, Evan Stiles, to notice the things that separated her from other swimmers.
“There are a lot of kids in the swimming world that don’t do everything,” he told City Paper last year. “They’ll sit out a 100 [yard or meter repetition] or they’ll go to the bathroom in the middle of a set or something like that. She’s not like that. She does everything and has always been like that. So her work ethic has always been really good. She has a very intense internal motivation, probably more than anyone that I’ve ever seen.”
Huske said that while there was “no definitive point” where she realized her exceptional talent, she knew she was “pretty good” around the age of 14 or 15. In 2018, Huske became the first freshman, girl or boy, to earn the Washington Post All-Met Swimmer of the Year honors. (I covered high school swimming for the Post and helped select the All-Met swimming teams that year.) She would also be named the 2019 Girls’ Swimmer of the Year as a sophomore after setting the national public high school record in the 100-yard butterfly. In December of that year, she won the 100-meter butterfly at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, beating out professional swimmer Kelsi Dahlia while setting a meet record.
Her swims eventually caught the eye of another local Olympian: Katie Ledecky. The pair first met in December 2018 at a meet, Ledecky told City Paper last year, and Ledecky, a D.C. native and Stanford University alum, has watched Huske’s career develop from afar. Last June, Huske committed to swim at Stanford University and she told City Paper that talking to Ledecky during a campus visit gave her a glimpse into her own potential and future in the sport. Soon, they’ll be Olympic teammates.
“Her 100 fly is really fast, but she’s so diverse in the events that she swims and really could be a contender in a number of events, if she continues to swim the level that she’s swimming at and rises to the occasion in Omaha,” Ledecky predicted early last year before the pandemic postponed the Tokyo Olympics. Huske is also qualified to compete in the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter freestyle, 200-meter butterfly, and the 200-meter individual medley, but will not be swimming the 200 butterfly due to her packed schedule. Jim says she will return to Virginia on June 21 and then leave for training camp in Hawaii on June 27. “We won’t see her for six weeks,” he says.
On Monday, the NBC broadcasters said that the one-year delay may have helped a young swimmer like Huske, implying that she would’ve had a tougher time qualifying had the Olympics been held last year. But as Stiles, her club coach, learned many years ago, it’s never a good idea to doubt Huske.
“I would never bet against her,” he said.