Only a high school junior, Emma Karam excited to swim at U.S. Olympic trials

Only a high school junior, Emma Karam excited to swim at U.S. Olympic trials

It’s rare for a high school athlete to come through Norther Nevada as accomplished as Galena High junior Emma Karam. So rare her coach, Reno Aquatic Club’s Ryan Evans, used a football analogy to put Karam’s talent into perspective.

“Every single Top 25 college in the country was recruiting her,” Evans said. “It would almost be if a superstar quarterback was getting recruited by Alabama and Texas and all the big schools. That’s kind the equivalent of what Emma is. She’s that five-star quarterback.”

Evans knew Karam was special early on. Even as a kid, her swimming capabilities were top tier. She’s since blossomed into one of the top national swimming recruits in the 2022 class. According to SwimSwam, Karam is ranked 16th in her class. Despite her youth, she’s qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials, which start Sunday, in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke.

“There is a lot of pressure,” Karam said. “I am pretty nervous, but it’s right now it’s a big thing for my experience and it’ll be really fun to experience all of that.

Added Evans: “To be at the Olympic level, the Olympic trials level, you have to have the talent. But at the same time, talent only takes you so far. And in a sport like swimming, you have to put the work in. There’s no no easy way around it. And so she has a very dedicated, very strong work ethic. And I think that with the combination of her natural ability has taken her this far.”

Evans started coaching Karam at 5 years old and quickly realized she had great potential.

“She just had a drive and determination and hated to lose, always wanted to win,” Evans said. “Whether it was in the beginning of practice when you’re just warming up and supposed to be swimming slow, she was swimming fast, trying to beat the people next to her and just had a lot of potential.”

After coaching Karam that year, Evans left the club for a short period of time to pursue another opportunity. But after a few years, Evans came back to the club as head coach where he would see a familiar face in Karam, who was playing multiple sports at the time.

“She was a gymnast, a diver, was playing middle school basketball and swimming was kind of always a part of her her life,” Evans said. “But she never pursued it full time. And so I coached her for 4 to 6 months and just saw that she had a lot of potential. And we had a meeting, a goal meeting. And I just said, ‘Hey, if you want to do these other sports, I’ll support you. But I think you have the potential to basically go to any college you want via swimming.’ At that point, she decided to commit fully to swimming and she’s just taken off from from there.”

After shifting her full focus to swimming, Karam started flourishing in the sport. But she also credits her gymnastic training for pushing her to be a better swimmer.

“It was a really fun sport because you could do all the tricks and you were flexible and strong and stuff,” she said. “But at the end, it was very mentally draining. So swimming was the next sport that was the best for me. Gymnastics taught me discipline to work hard no matter what happens.”

In March, Karam swam a time of 52.19 seconds in the 100-meter backstroke, setting the Pacific 16U record that was held by five-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin. Earlier this year, she verbally committed to swim for North Carolina.

“They just had a great team dynamic,” Karam said. “I went to go visit their campus and I met some of the teammates and they took me out to dinner and made me already feel part of the family. And then also the head coach there reminds me a lot of my own coach, so I get along with him pretty well.”

With the Olympic trials just a few days away, Evans says he’s looking forward to seeing Karam on a national stage.

“She really excels when it’s a pressure-packed situation,” he said. “So performance-wise, I’m excited. I think she’s going to do really well. I view this Olympic trials for Emma as an opportunity to learn and to kind of understand the pressure of Olympic trials. And then in three years, in 2024, hopefully she’s vying for one of those top two spots.”

Evans is hopeful Karam can use this experience to catapult her future in swimming.

“Normal times (at the trials), there’s 12,000 spectators,” he said. “Swim meets don’t have 12,000 spectators. Olympic trials has that, but normal swim meets don’t. So it’s just a different environment. And from swimmers, a lot of times their first Olympic trials, they don’t perform that well because it is so pressure packed. So one of our goals is just to go and have a positive experience and to learn so she can be set up for 2024, 2028.”

Joining Karam in Omaha for the Olympic trials will be her parents and coach. She said she’s thrilled and nervous but looking forward to the experience and will follow her usual pre-race routine.

“I usually try and clear my head before a race just to make sure to focus on the race itself and the people around me as I’m racing,” she said.

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