Angelo Baca: Finding His Passion

Angelo Baca looked up at the scoreboard, tracking down his name and looking across the row to find his time. His lungs felt like they were going to give out. He was exhausted.

Baca was swimming in the 200-yard individual medley, an event in which his best time was just over 2:19, at the national club swim and dive competition in Atlanta, Georgia. His goal: cut down four seconds, a feat that took him all season to accomplish. He wanted to do it again in only a week.

When he hit the wall, Baca looked up in disbelief. Two minutes and 11 seconds. He had shaved off double what he wanted to. His team stood at the end of his lane, smirking.

“Yeah, you did that.”

Baca, the men’s captain for the University of Colorado’s club swim and dive team, has been in the water since he was a toddler.

“My parents took me to the pool when I was only two years old, and they threw me in,” Baca said. Just a few years after, he started taking swim lessons at age five.

“People have their spaces. Some like to read or write or draw. My escape is the pool,” Baca said. “I take hour-long showers just because I feel comfortable in the water. Swim practice, those two hours, doesn’t really feel like two hours. Time isn’t a factor. I’m not thinking about the rest of the world, I’m just there.”

Despite his early introduction to the sport, Baca didn’t start to swim competitively until he got to CU. He was on his high school’s team, but it wasn’t his main focus.

Baca was more involved with the marching band, playing the saxophone, baritone and the bass trombone. Baca was a drill sergeant for the marching band and sat first chair in his league for symphonic orchestra. With all the time he invested in music, he never had the opportunity to get serious about swimming.

When he got to CU, he joined the marching band, juggling his passion for music with the pre-med track, an aerospace major and the swim team.

Then, his priorities shifted.

“I started to hate music,” Baca said. “I lost the passion for it because it started to feel like work, like an obligation, not a passion.”

After dropping the marching band, Baca also decided to drop the pre-med track. Next to go was his aerospace major. From there, he declared a major in chemistry and committed himself to the swim team.

“I would’ve dropped out freshman year if I hadn’t been a part of the swim team,” Baca said, but the close-knit environment, and the encouragement from his teammates, is what kept him around.

With each passing season, he set goals to cut down his times in the water. When he would reach them, he’d set another. It was always about the time.

“Over the last season, he dropped a significant amount of time,” swim coach Anne Shawhan said. “He’s very focused on his goals, he’s very dedicated to achieving them, and because of that he’s been successful.”

But being elected swim captain changed Baca’s perspective. Now, as a senior, his focus is on his team.

“It’s hard to differentiate my individual goals and what I want to see for the team,” Baca said. “I want to swim fast, but at the same time, I want to make people on my team fast. If I can push people to beat me, make our team faster and better, it’s just as good.”

So far in the 2017 season, the swim team is undefeated, walking away with victories at Colorado State University’s Ram Invitational and the University of Utah’s Rocky Mountain Invitational.

“CU has a history of winning,” Shawhan said. “It’s almost expected of us at this point. But at the last meet, we had plenty of best times, and for this point in our season that’s a phenomenal progression.”

The tradition, and expectation, of victory has the team excited to move forward, both Baca and Shawhan agree. Baca hopes that the team maintains its enthusiasm throughout the season and take home big wins at the regional and national levels. And, along the way, maybe he can improve his own times, too.

Written October 2017 for Sports Writing