CHAMPAIGN — She's something of a competition junkie, but that's not always a good thing for Centennial junior Audrey Rodawig.
To hear her coach, Janell Shine, describe her, Rodawig would "rip out her left arm" if it would help her go faster and beat the person next to her.
That's the good part of being someone who thrives on the adrenaline of competition.
"I'm told that whenever I get somebody right next to me," said Rodawig, The News-Gazette's Swimmer of the Year, "I get this mind-set and I have this source of energy that comes out of me and I get excited."
There's a downside, though. When no one is good enough to hang with you, it can be tough to produce the same rush of energy. And Rodawig sometimes is too good for her own good.
Consider the daily grind of practice. Swimmers have it as tough as any athlete, pouring themselves into the pool to swim lap after lap, set after set, in an effort to build the endurance and speed required to compete on game day. It can be drudgery, but it helps when you have someone next to you who constantly pushes you along.
Unfortunately for Rodawig, even the Saturday afternoon invitationals rarely offered much competition.
"Swimming is definitely a mental sport," Rodawig said. "Having to do my own lane is kind of hard because during the offseason I usually have somebody pushing me. Swimming is an individual sport, but when you're by yourself you really have to focus and put all your effort into every practice to reach your goals."
Rodawig felt fortunate to have Shine and her teammates there to provide support, but there's only so much they can do. At some point, Rodawig's only path to progress is to summon whatever pieces of motivation reside within herself.
"It's kind of mentally taxing on her to have to push herself," Shine said.
Rodawig's season was a study in impressive performances. She rolled through her main events, the 100-yard butterfly and 200-yard free, without being harrassed. She won both events at the sectional, establishing a school-record time in the 200 free (1 minute, 53.15 seconds) that wasn't far off a 14-year-old pool record.
"After I touched the wall I couldn't believe my time," Rodawig said. "I was so excited."
She then entered state with seedings (seventh in fly, ninth in free) that would suggest she could do some damage.
It didn't happen.
"Sometimes at the state level ... she goes in seeded (ninth), but when you're not used to having somebody within a half-second of your time," Shine said, "sometimes it plays on you mentally."
Rodawig finished 14th in the fly and 16th in the 200 free, but it was hardly the end of the world. Look out, 2012.
"Even though I did not make it to finals at state, and I was disappointed, I'm going to use it as motivation to make it back next year and to make a statement," she said.
Until then, Rodawig will swim with the YMCA's Champaign County Heat, where she gets pushed every day by folks like Champaign Central standout Hannah Newman. And when the prep season rolls around again next fall, Rodawig figures to have an even better handle on how to find the improvement she seeks.
"She's a great race competitor," Shine said. "We need her to have that same mentality every time she jumps in the pool, whether there's somebody there to race with her or not."