Running down a dream

FL native McKinzie Chelberg heads west to chase Olympic aspirations


Clint Riese
Sports Editor

She’s not bound for Hollywood, but a former Ranger star just packed up and headed west to run down her dream in California. If all goes well, McKinzie Chelberg’s next adventure will take her south in 2016. Way south, as in to Brazil.

“I see this as being the best path to the Olympics,” the 18-year-old said last week upon arrival in Walnut Creek, CA.

McKinzie Chelberg

The town located about 15 miles inland from the San Francisco Bay is home to the Aquanuts, one of the country’s premier synchronized swimming clubs. The Aquanuts were one of Chelberg’s main competitors when the Forest Lake native swam for the St. Paul Stars.

Now, she has joined the 12-time national champions in hopes of following the route of several team members who have reached the Olympics. Between the club’s stellar reputation and her connection to a few of the Aquanuts, Chelberg chose the California move over opportunities to swim for a major collegiate program. Working towards a college degree online will also allow her to schedule coursework around her pool time, rather than the other way around.

“It all just seemed like the best choice for me,” Chelberg said.

Her addition to the club comes as the current synchro season winds down. Learning the ropes now will better position her come this fall’s training camp where teams for next season are determined. The competitive season runs from February through July and Chelberg expects to be on the club’s senior team. She also expects to put in at least six hours per day, six days per week, when everything is in full swing.

The Aquanuts compete in the biggest tournaments nationwide and even internationally, but pressure is nothing new to Chelberg. Since finding the sport as a sixth-grader and rising through the program at Forest Lake High School, she has already swam in Montreal and Jamaica and at a slew of state, regional and national meets.

Chelberg competed with the junior national team in 2011 and took sixth in the senior solo category this year at both the National Championships in April and the U.S. Open in July.

Her biggest test to date came last November at the Olympic Trials in Greensboro, NC. Chelberg would have been the second alternate for the 2012 Games had the United States qualified as a team.

“I was a little bit nervous but mostly it was just for practice for me because the ultimate goal is to go in 2016,” she said.

Each year also brings the opportunity to try out for the senior national team.

In the meantime, Chelberg is adapting to life as an Aquanut. Though it is her first time living away from her parents, Scott and Wendy, she expects a smooth transition because she will be living with the family of a Walnut Creek teammate. Plus, Chelberg is familiar with the area because her junior national team trained at the club for a few weeks last year.

Also, Wendy is hanging around for the first month or so following their arrival in The Golden State at the end of what is sure to have been a coming-of-age road trip. Fittingly, mother and daughter spent nights during the journey tuning in for the Olympic synchronized swimming competition.

“[In 2008] I remember thinking, ‘How can anyone get that good at synchro?’” Chelberg said. “Now, seeing it this year, I thought, ‘Wow, I’m almost there.’”