by Joe Seil
The skill set that has been so prevalent and helped to define the brilliant swimming career of Carissa Risucci ’13 manifested itself shortly after her first splash in the pool as an eight-year-old minnow. The consequential characteristics—the dedication, hard work, and passion—that separate the very good from the elite came later as a 21-year-old shark.
“I think I learned at an early age that I had a talent for the breaststroke,” says Risucci, who grew up in Deerfield, N.Y. near Utica. “I would go to practices and my coaches would tell me to swim something freestyle and I would straight-out defy them and swim the breaststroke because that’s all I wanted to do. The talent base was always there, but through the years I was able to develop the necessary dedication and the love for the sport.”
That love affair reached a pinnacle in March in Shenandoah, Texas, as Risucci competed at the NCAA Division III Championships for the fourth year in a row. She capped her dazzling aquatic career with a second-place finish in the 200-yard breaststroke as she broke her own school record with a time of 2:14.90. She touched the wall just .19 of a second behind Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Amy Spaay. Earlier that week, Risucci finished eighth in the 100-yard breaststroke. She also holds the school record in that event (1:03.93).
“It’s been my whole life,” says Risucci as she reminisced about an honor-laden collegiate livelihood that included nine All-American certificates. “I keep telling people that the longest relationship I’ve ever had is with my sport. This has been my No. 1 priority for a long time.”
In the 200 breaststroke finals, Risucci stuck to her strategy that would enable her to maintain the same pace throughout the race. “She’s consistent,” says Nazareth Coach Martie Staser. “She’s unusual in that she’s able to maintain the same pace for all four 50-yard splits.”
Spaay led the entire race, but Risucci’s closing strategy made for a frantic finish as she was about a half a stroke short of finishing first. If the event had been called the 205-yard breaststroke, the result might have been different.
“It was very exciting,” says Staser, who has guided swimmers to the national meet in each of her nine seasons
at Nazareth. “If she had been a little bit taller she might have won it. She gave it everything she had and was happy with the result.”
The end, inevitably, was bittersweet. That sentiment, though, was swallowed up by a sensation of contentment as Risucci knew she had been supremely equipped to swim the best race of her life. “It was a challenge to stay focused and nearing the end helped give me some perspective,” she says. “I just wanted to make sure that I left everything in the water and didn’t have any regrets.”
The honors didn’t stop there. In addition to the All-American recognition, Risucci was named Empire 8 Conference Swimmer of the Year. She’s won six conference titles and was selected this year as the Rochester Press-Radio Club’s College Athlete of the Year. She attended the prestigious awards dinner in June that featured San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the headline speaker.
She completed her undergraduate degree in communication and rhetoric last December, and her 3.93 cumulative grade-point average helped earn her the Robert A. Kidera scholar-athlete award as well as the Empire 8 scholar-athlete award. She’s headed to graduate school at New York University in the fall.
“She’s one of the most talented athletes to come through Nazareth,” says Staser, who also coached Emily Lesher ’09 to a national title in the 400-yard individual medley in 2007. “It has been a phenom- enal experience to coach her. She is a great leader who sets high aspirations for herself.”
- For more on nazareth athletics, visit athletics.naz.edu.
Joe Seil is the sports information director and assistant athletic director at Nazareth College.