Published On: Wed, Jul 27th, 2011

Stefanec to compete in Olympic trials

Annie Stefanec

LOS ANGELES — It’s a plot even the best Hollywood screeenwriters couldn’t dream up.
An up-and-coming swimmer breaks her back in a freak weightroom accident while practicing, and works tirelessly to not only recover from the potential career-ending injury, but also earns a shot at the Olympics.

This made-for-TV drama is not fiction. It’s the real-life story of Annie Stefanec — the granddaughter of Anne Wortmann, Hartington, and the late Rudy Wortmann.
Stefanec completed the 100-meter backstroke July 17 in the Los Angeles Invitational in under the Olympic-qualifying time of 1:04. Her 1:03.55 time gives the 6’2” UCLA swimmer an automatic berth into the Olympic Swimming Trials next June in Omaha.
Her mom, 1968 Cedar Catholic graduate Mary (Wortmann) Stefanec, was very proud of her 20-year-old daughter’s effort and determination.
“She had the swim of her life. She got that 10:3.55 and she came out of the pool with that incredible smile on her face. That was the most beautiful, touching thing for a mom to see,” Mary said.
Mary said it’s a dream come true to not only have her daughter make the Olympic trials, but to have those trials back home in Nebraska.
“We have a lot of family in Omaha and in Nebraska. Oh my gosh, that’s why she wanted to make it so bad,” Mary said.
As soon as Mary finished congratulating her daughter, she dialed back home to Hartington.
Her relatives back here were very excited to hear the news.
“I couldn’t believe it when she called,” Annie’s aunt, Carol Craig, said. “It’s going to be pretty crazy when she’s down in Omaha next June. I’m sure people will notice all of her fans cheering her on down there,” she said.
Annie has been around water all of her life, first learning  to swim and getting comfortable in the water when she was 18 months old. She started competitive swimming at the age of five.
She has racked up quite a few honors in her swimming career to date.
She was a four-year letterwinner in swimming and eight-time first-team All-American at Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks High School.She was also a four-time team MVP while in high school where she was undefeated in the 100-yard backstroke in all four years of Mission League competition.
Annie has had many ups and downs during the course of her collegiate career.
Breaking a bone in her back was definitely the low point of her career.
“I got a call at work one day that she had fallen and broken her back lifting weights in the weight room,” Mary said. “It was like someone just punching you in the gut. We were just stunned.”
It took about a year for Annie to regain her form, Mary said.
“She was out for awhile, but she kept working to rehabilitate. She kept getting back in the pool despite people telling her to wait. This summer was the first big meet  she’d had since she broke her back,” Mary said.
Now that Annie has attained the qualifying time, she can just concentrate on getting better.
In two weeks she will compete nationally at a meet at the University of Stanford. Starting in September, she will continue swimming with her UCLA team until next summer when she starts preparations for the Olympic trials in Omaha.