Ellie Wehrmann’s accomplishments as a swimmer and her faith have mushroomed while at Incarnate Word Academy.
“I’ve grown a lot as a person, a student and as a swimmer and athlete,” Wehrmann said of her four years at Incarnate Word.
She recently returned full of praise for a Kairos retreat for seniors at the high school. “It puts everything in perspective, how blessed I am to be able to go to a private school and get this kind of education and also going to a private school my entire life. My faith has a big impact on who I am as a person,” she said.
Being a Catholic, she said, means treating everyone with kindness and as she wants to be treated. “I try to the best of my ability to do that with every person I meet. It’s the little things that I do that show my faith,” she said.
Last season, Wehrmann repeated as Class 1 state champion in the 100-yard freestyle and was runner-up in the 200-yard freestyle, an event she also won as a sophomore. At the COMO Invitational on the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia this season, Wehrmann won back-to-back events, the 200-yard freestyle and the 200 individual medley, showing extraordinary endurance. Last month she was voted the Athlete of the Meet by coaches at the Cape Girardeau City of Roses Invite after winning the 100 fly and 500 freestyle, breaking meet records. She’s qualified in every event for this year’s state championship Feb. 20-21 at the City of St. Peters Rec-Plex.
The swimming sensation earlier signed to continue competitive swimming at the University of Kansas, where her mom also attended. She enjoys math classes and is considering anatomy as a major. Incarnate Word has helped her with academics, time management and with her faith life.
Wehrmann is a hard worker. She excels in her schoolwork, taking honors and AP courses. She gets up at 4 a.m. to practice, then practices after school and on weekends, too. “I do everything whole-heartedly and to the best of my abilities,” she said. “Swimming is something I have a passion for and I love, so it’s easy to concentrate on it.”
Incarnate Word’s home meets are fun because of the energy and encouragement the swimmers get, said the parishioner of St. Joseph in Cottleville.
How does she handle her success? “I try not to think that much of it,” Wehrmann said. “I take it one day at a time. It’s a blessing what I’ve achieved, but I keep working hard to achieve more.”
Her advice to others: “The harder you work, the more likely you are to achieve your goals.”
Wehrmann pointed out that her teammates have worked hard, and she’s excited to see what they can accomplish at the state meet.
Red Knights coach Grace Burnworth, a theology teacher at St. John Vianney High School in Kirkwood, said Wehrmann is adept at encouraging others, including swimmers from other teams. “What I want everyone to do is to look at each other and to meet Christ in the other person,” Burnworth said. “She truly does that. In a race, typically you see a competitor want to tear the person next to them down. But she really and truly wants everyone to do their best.”
The medal-winning swimmer is not impressed by herself the way others are, Burnworth said. At the meet in Cape Girardeau, Mo., Wehrmann asked her coach how the other coaches knew about her. “I said, ‘Ellie, you’re a remarkable swimmer and you’re winning everything. People notice that. And also because you’re courteous to everyone. That’s noteworthy. People comment on that,’” Burnworth said.
The strict regimen of Wehrmann’s day is similar to monastic life, Burnworth said. “It’s an approach to doing everything with honor and diligence. When she’s here, she’s here completely. When she’s in the classroom, she’s in the classroom completely. She has an authentic presence, and that’s why people enjoy being with her so much.”
Wehrmann’s mom, Dana, said she and her husband put a priority on a Catholic education for their three children. Ellie’s brother, Max, a sophomore at Christian Brothers College High School, finished second in the 200-yard freestyle at the state meet.
Many Catholic high schools in St. Louis
offer Kairos retreats as a complement to efforts in growing the
spiritual lives of students. Kairos helps the retreatant relate her or
his everyday experiences with God. It is an experience of Christian
community with a series of talks usually given both by peers and by
teachers. Prayer and the sacraments are an essential part of the program
as well as the participants’ involvement in discussions and other
exercises. The retreat helps students to get to know and grow in love
for God, self and others.
Kairos, according to Kairos North America,
is the ancient Greek word for the opportune moment, the special season,
and the right time. It’s the time when God acts, and we respond.
people live in just this sort of time,” Kairos North America states on
its website. “It’s when they make the decisions that determine the
person they will become and when they have the opportunity to give their
whole lives for something truly significant. Kairos was created to
encounter young men and women during this kairos in their lives: to
introduce them to Jesus Christ, to call them into mature discipleship,
and to walk with them as they respond.”
Grace Burnworth, coach of the Incarnate Word
High School swim team, was a competitive swimmer herself and was on the
swim team at Vanderbilt University.
She’s also a theology teacher at St. John Vianney High School, and is an assistant swim coach there.
love the sport,” Burnworth said. “It’s really fun to watch them
progress and build as a team. It’s an individual and team sport. They
encourage and learn from one another.”
She also enjoys teaching
theology to seniors. “They have enough knowledge about the faith to
question it and to figure out, how do I now look at the world through a
Catholic lens,” she said.
She prays every day for help in
proposing Jesus to every person she encounters. “It’s not limited to my
classroom. It’s certainly here (at the pool) too. Their (a student’s)
life is not in this pool and it’s not going to stay in this pool,”
So, Burnworth said, she helps them live Christ’s love and assists them in their faith journeys.