Journalism Next: Speedy Saint Stephen's 'shark' flourishes in Florida

Special to the Bradenton HeraldDecember 2, 2013 

Elle Berdusco now owns eight school swimming records at St. Stephen's Episcopal School. PHOTO PROVIDED

It's 5 a.m. She dives off of the block with full power, breaking the surface of the chilly morning water.

The sun rises as she finishes her morning practice and heads off to school.

This is Ellie Berdusco -- a 17-year-old student at Saint Stephen's Episcopal School and the 2012 girls' swimming Florida state champion in the 500-meter freestyle.

Berdusco has rewritten the Saint Stephen's record book, holding the titles for five individual and three relay events.

Berdusco has been training with the Sarasota Shark team and joined the Saint Stephen's varsity swim team in seventh grade.

"My favorite part about high school swimming is how close our team is and how we make each other better," Berdusco said.

Lee Cucchi, head swimming coach for Saint Stephen's, said she challenges Berdusco to beat school records at every meet.

"She is an animal in the water. She loves to chase down people. Nothing is going to make her think that she can't be better than she already is," Cucchi said.

In addition to the Falcons' swim team, Berdusco continues to train out of school in Sarasota. Her schedule consists of waking up at 4 a.m. and heading off to practice from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. After school, she swims from 3 to 6 p.m., totaling four-and-a-half hours of swimming practice a day.

Berdusco began swimming when she was 8 years old. She was inspired to join the sport by her older brother, Michael.

"Mike joined the team, and I decided I wanted to follow in his footsteps," she said.

The lessons Berdusco has taken with her from swimming are not just limited to her sport. She said swimming taught her many skills she applies in school and other activities.

"Swimming has forced me to learn how to manage my time, since I don't have a lot of free time," she said. "The most important thing swimming has taught me is a good work ethic."

Aside from her daily practices and meets, Berdusco excels in class. Last year, she received the distinction of being included on the Head of School list for outstanding performance in academic courses. Allison Misiewicz, her Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher, said Berdusco maintains her trademark tenacity in the classroom.

"She shows an amazing amount of aptitude to balance everything that she's handling all at the same time. She does it with grace," Misiewicz said.

Berdusco's academics and athletics keep her busy, but she still maintains energy and motivation.

"My personal goals motivate me, and I am also motivated by my competitors," Berdusco said.

Berdusco acknowledges there have been difficult moments. Earlier in the season, she suffered a stress fracture in her lower back that kept her out of the water for two months. However, Berdusco has pushed forward with a positive attitude and is looking to the future.

"At this point, I am definitely thinking of swimming in college and hopefully scoring at the (National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament)," she said.

Cucchi said Berdusco's performance sets an example for others. "She's focused (and) committed and is such a role model to everyone else," Cucchi said.

Her brother, freshman Brian Berdusco, agreed.

"She is always receiving multiple different awards through swimming and school. She travels to different places for swimming," Brian said. "I really like having a sister (who) achieves so much because she motivates me to fill her shoes."

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service