Need for Speed: Drexel Swimmer Heads to the NCAAs

Rachel Bernhardt in front of the pool at the Rec Center

Rachel Bernhardt seems like she can get comfortable anywhere. The junior physical therapy major has a tendency to slowly fold her long body into a slouch as she talks, which she quickly corrects. But this relaxed demeanor masks the intense competitive drive and impressive skill in the water that made her the first Drexel swimmer from either the male or female teams to earn a place at the NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships.

“Once I’m in my race and ready to swim, everyone around me is a competitor,” Bernhardt said. “Everyone around me is someone I have to beat.”

That includes Bernhardt, herself. More than any other competitor, the swimmer she was most focused on beating was who she was last season. While qualifying for the NCAA is a great milestone, Bernhardt’s main goal was to be significantly faster than her previous time.

That need for speed paid off. Bernhardt set new school records at the CAA Swimming Championships Feb. 24-27 and earned the first two gold medals for the Drexel women's swimming program. Her time in the 100-yard breaststroke was 1:00.65 and her 200-yard breaststroke time was 2:10.89, beating her previous time in the 100-yard by half a second and a marked improvement in the 200-yard.

“I just went for it and kind of hoped I wouldn’t die in the last 50,” Bernhardt said with a laugh.

Bernhardt started swimming competitively later than many of her peers, which she believes gives her an edge. "Usually people start at five," Bernhardt said. "I started in seventh grade. Which is why I feel like I have so much more in the tank."

“The exciting thing is she’s continuing to drop time and improve,” said Coach Adam Braun. “She has a ton more potential, in terms of training and transitioning that to racing. If she sticks with it, three years after she’s done swimming for Drexel, I don’t see any reason that she wouldn’t have a shot at the 2020 Olympic trials.”

For Bernhardt, the 2020 Olympics are too far off to even think about. A far more tangible future is her upcoming co-op with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, which she talks about in excited tones. But she’s always thinking about getting back into the water.

“I love swimming,” Berhnhardt said. “I love being in the pool; after college I know I’m not ready to give it up. So I’m going to keep swimming. “

The 2016 NCAA Division I Women's Swimming and Diving Championships began Wed., March 16 and continues through Sat., March 19 at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Ga.