On different ends of the continent, sisters Amalie Fackenthal, ’18, and Marigot Fackenthal, ’17, are excelling as Division I student-athletes.
Amalie Fackenthal is a member of the Stanford University women’s swimming and diving team, which won both the 2019 Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12) Championships (Feb. 27-March 2 in Federal Way, Washington) and the 2019 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships (March 20-23) in Austin, Texas.
At the NCAA Championships, Amalie Fackenthal earned five All-America honors, placing in the top eight in four relays — the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays and the 200 and 400 medley relays.
“Relays help me because I’m a nervous person, and being able to do something with a group of women that I’ve been training with calms me down,” she said. “It becomes more like a team challenge.
“Relays are also really competitive, and there’s a lot of pride in them, so I’m really proud to be a relay swimmer.”
Although she was seeded 43 for the 100 freestyle, Amalie Fackenthal earned 13th in the event, as well as a career-best finish of 47.95 seconds in the preliminary race.
She said she was confident she could finish faster than her seed suggested, but her career-best finish was validating of her hard work.
“My work pays off, and I don’t have to see results in the middle of the season,” Amalie Fackenthal said. “I was consistent in season untapered (not rested), but I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be. NCs (NCAA Championships) was my first time going really fast.
“There’s doubt when you’re training so hard the whole season and you haven’t been hitting best times. I’m learning how to trust myself, my coaches and my training.”
Since Amalie Fackenthal had already swum in the pool used for the NCAA Championships, the meet felt similar to ones in high school. However, the collegiate atmosphere varied greatly.
“There was a lot more team culture as opposed to club meets because people are really proud of their colleges, and there is a lot more of a fan base,” she said. “I’ve never been a part of something with so much pride in it.”
Amalie Fackenthal added that the Pac-12 Championships prepared her mentally for the NCAA Championships.
“In Pac-12 I was a nervous wreck, and I think that affected my performance a lot,” she said. “When I went to NCs, I was like, ‘I just want to race,’ which is very unlike me because I’m a nervous person.”
Winning this championship was the team’s ultimate, yet unspoken, goal, as Stanford had taken home the trophy the past two years, according to Amalie Fackenthal.
“It’s kind of scary going in as a freshman knowing that this team lost some really good seniors last year,” she said. “We had to step up and not be afraid of that. Knowing (our goal) was a little bit of pressure, but we handled it pretty well.”
While Stanford lacks sports-based popularity, hazing and bullying, Amalie Fackenthal said that being a freshman was still “tough.”
“(I’ve learned) how to fit into my place on the team and how to be humble and realize that while I may have been good in high school, everyone here is good,” she said. “Everyone here works as hard as me, and I have to earn it.”
Another adjustment was her college coach’s training style, which she has learned to trust. In high school, her coach focused on aerobic, long-distance training.
“I had a better aerobic base, so my heart was probably a lot stronger in high school,” Amalie Fackenthal said.
“I train here more for power, and my muscles are a lot bigger now, and I can go faster, but I don’t think I could swim as long as I did in high school. It’s just those differences I wasn’t used to.”
Life outside of practice isn’t easy, either, with Stanford’s difficult curriculum and heavier workload than Country Day.
“Sometimes on the rough days when I just want a break, I think about the kids who don’t do sports, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, it must be the nicest thing to just go home and do homework after school is over,’” she said.
“But I think once you settle into a routine, and you make a schedule and stick to it and don’t procrastinate, then you’ll be fine. It’s not impossible, and I’m not losing too many hours of sleep.”
Additionally, SCDS helped her learn to study well.
“Classes like AP Bio, APUSH and (AP) Calc forced me to learn how to study in a way that benefited me, and that has really helped me here,” Amalie Fackenthal said.
“I also learned how to not procrastinate. I’ve never been a huge procrastinator, but in high school because I started getting more serious with swimming, I couldn’t just not do my work, so I learned how to do my homework during free periods and make it so that I didn’t have to worry about staying up late.”
Even though the student-athlete workload can be difficult, she said she “wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
“Once you get recruited to swim, it’s like it’s your job. It’s a job that you love, so every day we show up and do our work, and there’s no complaining about the hard parts or regret about being there,” Amalie Fackenthal said. “It’s very different and motivating, and I love it.”
While her sister swims in California, Marigot Fackenthal is sabre fencing as a sophomore at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
This year, Marigot Fackenthal was the vice-captain of the team and earned Institutional Alternate status for the NCAA Championships, March 24 in Cleveland, but did not compete. Institutional Alternates qualify for the championships, but their teams were already sending two higher-ranked fencers of the same weapon. If one of those fencers had been unable to compete in the championships, the Institutional Alternate would have taken her place, according to Marigot Fackenthal.
As the vice-captain, she said she has helped unite the team.
“My team feels very organized and unified, and everyone’s very disciplined, which was our coach’s vision from the very beginning when she first joined the team two or three years ago,” she said. “The team wasn’t functioning as a unit back then, but this year both myself and the captain have really brought good leadership on the team.”
In order to bring about those changes, Marigot Fackenthal first needed to change herself.
“I was definitely one of the freshmen who wasn’t afraid to complain a lot if I felt there was something that needed to be complained about or gossip about drama that was happening on the team,” she said.
“Since becoming a captain, I’ve seen that it was a necessity to set a really good example. Now, I make sure I miss almost no practices. I’m there every day, (and) I have a good attitude no matter what is going on. Sometimes things are going on outside of my fencing life that are not great, but as a leader I should always be positive at practice and leave everything outside the fencing room.”
Marigot Fackenthal said she also drew upon leadership skills she learned from her time as an editor-in-chief on the Octagon.
“Being on the Octagon and leading the Octagon gave me a lot of skills that I needed going to college in general, especially being a leader on the team, managing relationships between people and organizing schedules,” she said.
While most fencers peak in high school, Marigot Fackenthal said she has grown instead.
“I’ve improved so much since I’ve come to college. I really love our coach’s style. I had been plateauing during high school, and after coming to college,” she said. “I finally broke that plateau. A different coaching style and a change of rhythm was able to break me out of that fencer’s block.”
Majoring in mechanical engineering and minoring in astronomy, Marigot Fackenthal was recently inducted into Cornell’s 400 Club, which recognizes varsity student-athletes with 4.0 semester grade-point averages.
But reaching that 4.0 as a student-athlete has been an arduous journey, Marigot Fackenthal said.
“My freshman year, balancing fencing and school was rather difficult,” she said. “I was adjusting to college. Academics weren’t going amazingly for me. I had a hard time adjusting to engineering school at first. I had a concussion. Everything was going wrong. I thought it was impossible to balance all of these things. I was like, ‘Fencing is too much of a commitment. Our practice schedule is insane.’ I had this bad attitude.
“But going into this year, my attitude has completely reversed. Now, although our fencing practice schedule is the strictest of any school I know of, I actually really like that now. Looking at other teams from other schools, I’ve noticed that ours is so much more disciplined, and we have a very different vibe. We care a lot about each other and each other’s improvement, which, weirdly, you don’t see on a lot of other teams.”
Now, everyday practices help Marigot Fackenthal.
“I really like knowing that I’ll come to practice every day knowing that everyone else is coming to practice every day,” she said. “No matter what my schedule is, no matter how much work I have, taking two hours to clear my mind and go to practice and work out — it’s helpful. I feel like I can concentrate better after I work out and use a bunch of my physical energy.
“It helps me with time management because it’s doable in the time that I have, and if I were to stop fencing, I would have a lot of slack time that I’m sure I would not fill with anything productive.”
As if she wasn’t busy enough this year, Marigot Fackenthal was also an undergraduate teaching assistant for the physics department and the mechanical and aerospace engineering department and currently works as a research assistant in Cornell’s Bewley Applied Turbulence Lab.
But even with her busy academic schedule, she said some students still stereotype athletes.
“One thing I didn’t expect was the judgment that comes with being a student-athlete,” Marigot Fackenthal said. “In the engineering school, people seem to look down on student-athletes. I guess they’re perceived as not as academically serious. There’s just that stereotype.
“For instance, when we get put on group projects, there’s definitely some judgment. I’ve heard people complain, ‘Ugh, I’m stuck in a group with athletes, they don’t know how to do anything.’ And I’m like, “Well, maybe they don’t have all the skills that project team kids have, but they’re definitely smart. They have a lot of other skills.’”
The College of Engineering’s focus on project teams (which “mimic real-world engineering by bringing Cornell students, faculty and staff together to solve complex problems in team-based settings” according to Cornell’s website) led Marigot Fackenthal to an important conclusion about her college life.
“Being on the fencing team is a huge time commitment,” she said. “In college, you really have to start thinking about choosing what you’re going to spend your time doing. I got really worried about if spending a large part of my after-class hours fencing is a worthwhile thing that is going to help me out in the future.And for a while, I really wasn’t sure that it was.
“I had this whole breakdown the beginning of sophomore year because I went to the career fair, and when I went up to all these companies like SpaceX, one of the first questions they would all ask me is what project team I’m on, as if that was some sort of expectation for mechanical engineers.
“That really stressed me out. I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. They did not care at all that I was an athlete. All they cared about was if I was on a project team and what role I had there.’ I was definitely scared by that, and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I need to rethink what I’m doing here in college. I need to quit the fencing team. I need to get on a project team as fast as I can, or I’m never going to have a job.’
However, after pondering her dilemma for a week, Marigot Fackenthal reached a decision.
“I didn’t want to live my whole college life just doing activities for the sake of employers,” she said. “I didn’t want to join a project team — I wanted to do fencing. I love the fencing team. I love the idea of being a student-athlete. I know what kind of hard work it takes to be a student-athlete. I love the discipline that comes along with it. I’ve always done a sport and school for as long as I can remember, and I think it’s a really healthy lifestyle.”