Park City swimmer Audrey McDonald overcomes adversity on way to shattering records
It’s been an interesting life for Parkite Audrey McDonald, one filled with triumphs, tribulations and resilience.
After being diagnosed with dyslexia in the eighth grade and struggling with school for much of her adolescence, McDonald found a life away from the struggles whenever she dove into a pool.
Now, as a 17-year-old senior at the Picabo Street Academy, McDonald is months away from continuing her education and swimming at the collegiate level, where she holds numerous offers from Division I schools.
“It’s crazy to think how far I’ve come, especially with everything I’ve been through to now be so close to having one of my dreams come true,” McDonald said. “To this day, I still can’t stand school but having swimming, and knowing I’m going to go somewhere I love, it’s made life so much better. I can’t wait to get this next step in my life started.”
Before any colleges took notice of McDonald, before she even jumped into a pool, she knew there was something wrong.
For years as a child she struggled in school, constantly battling the curriculum, teachers and time management. It got to the point where she know longer wanted to attend.
Then in the fourth grade, she was tested for dyslexia and was diagnosed with the disorder. Despite the diagnosis, school didn’t get better for McDonald, culminating in a disastrous eighth grade year where she said her public school, Treasure Mountain Junior High, didn’t have the answers or resources for her.
But then she learned former Olympic skier Picabo Street was going to be opening up a new year-round school for athletes.
“It was an easy decision because it was literally perfect for someone like me,” McDonald said. “I’ve been here since my freshman year, was the first student at the Picabo Street Academy. Whenever you start class, you have a year to finish and it’s always one on one. It has completely changed school for me and gotten me to where I want to be.”
Despite her struggles in the classroom, McDonald has always excelled in the pool, showing natural grace, flow and speed.
She began swimming at the age of 8, when her mother decided it was time for her to get in the water.
“I used to drive my mom insane when we would watch my older sister Natalie’s swim meets,” McDonald said. “She enrolled me with the Park City Swimming club and from there, it was all about trying to catch my sister.”
That competitive drive started to manifest in results when she was 13, finally beating her 17-year-old sister. That same drive eventually led McDonald down the road of becoming one of the best swimmers to ever come out of Park City.
She holds state records in the 200-meter freestyle, 200-meter butterfly and 800-meter freestyle while also being a two-time Junior Nationals qualifier.
McDonald’s success has attracted the attention of college coaches. Where she will go to school for the next four years is still undecided, though she’s taken four of her five official visits already.
She was initially verbally committed to Louisiana State University. But due to a number of factors, one of which being the scholarship money available and the number of girls on the team, she quickly decommitted and re-opened her recruitment over the summer.
“I really wanted to be in the SEC because it’s the biggest swimming conference in the country. … And I really wanted to go somewhere that I knew I would be challenged and make me the best swimmer possible,” McDonald said. “But when I decommitted, it was frustrating to have to go through the process again. I have looked at tons of schools but I just don’t know yet.”
For now, McDonald is planning a trip this weekend to San Diego State, a place she fell in love with while visiting on vacation with her family recently. They took a campus tour, got to see the incoming freshmen move-in and walk down “Greek Row,” all highlights for a town that she could see herself being in.
“There aren’t many words to describe my trip down there but it was amazing, I loved it and it was so much fun,” McDonald said. “I could definitely see myself ending up there. They sent quite a few swimmers to NCAAs last year so that’s a big thing because obviously they’re successful.”
But before she begins college, McDonald has her eyes set on two events coming up: Junior Nationals in December and swimming for Park City High School for the first time in the spring.
Junior Nationals takes place in Federal Way, Washington and McDonald will be swimming in the 1500-meter freestyle, 500-meter freestyle, 200-meter freestyle and 200-meter butterfly.
Following the conclusion of that event, McDonald will then set her sights on her sister’s school records at Park City, as well as more state records. She feels confident heading into the season.
“I’m so excited because this is my first time swimming for the high school. My club coach, who’s also the high school coach, told me to come out this year and I thought it would be fun,” McDonald said. “For me thinking about breaking Natalie’s records and some state ones, I’m like ‘game on.’”
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