Rajic, Woods set for World Trials

High School Sports

CHAMPAIGN — Ema Rajic’s life is already coming full circle at just 17 years old.

“I grew up with my sister competing in the IHSA swimming competition,” Rajic said. “I always looked back to those times and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, all these really fast swimmers.’ Seeing them break records, it’s kind of weird to be the one now breaking records.”

Breaking records and making a name for herself as one of the country’s best high school swimmers. The Uni High senior and state record holder isn’t slowing down either with her eyes now set on this week’s World Trials in Indianapolis where she’ll swim in four events.

“It is overwhelming at times but you kind of have to just sit back and relax,” Rajic said. “I deserve all of this. I’ve worked hard for this.”

It’s not Rajic’s first time going toe-to-toe with the country’s best. Just last summer she competed at the Olympic Trials in Omaha. She finished 49th out of the 125 swimmers in her event and posted a top five time among those 18 and under. Rajic’s hoping that experience will help her go even faster this time around.

“The process is the same,” she said. “Everyone is going to be there. I’ll see all my friends. I’ll see all the same Olympians. So, I’d say it’s pretty much the same.”

“Obviously we can’t control the outcome,” Rajic’s coach Will Barker said. “If somebody goes faster, they go faster. We’re looking at just trying to be faster there and under that kind of stage. If we do that, it’ll be a great success.” 

The preparation means a lot of early mornings and late nights for Rajic, with workouts starting as early as 6 a.m. six days a week. 

“At the end of the day, I don’t think I’d trade it for anything else,” she said. “I really like this sport. It’s just part of the deal.” 

Rajic isn’t the only Central Illinois swimmer at the World Trials. Former Central standout Payton Woods just finished his freshman season at Michigan State. He’ll compete in the 50-meter freestyle on Saturday.

“I’m a little excited and a little nervous,” Woods said. “Having competed at Big Ten’s my freshmen year at Michigan State, it kind of gave me a feel for being able to swim and compete with guys that are faster than me, and having that experience calms me down. So, I’m excited to see what I can do.”

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