Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Celia’s success: Pulido puts her name in history books 

Photo+provided+by+Saluki+Athletics
Photo provided by Saluki Athletics

Only one word is needed to describe Celia Pulido’s 2023-2024 season: historic.

The junior from Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, added to her exemplary swim legacy with her dominant performances this year. The only time that she finished under second in the 100 or 200 yard backstroke was at the NCAA championships, when she swam personal bests in both events. 

Pulido’s trip to nationals was highlighted by her performance in the 100 yard backstroke. In addition to it being a personal best, the time of 50.73 seconds shattered the SIU program record, was the fastest mid-major 100 yard backstroke ever, and earned her a seventh-place finish in the entire country. 

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After the meet, Pulido was able to look back on her season with satisfaction.

“I feel great. I think it was such a good season, especially at NCAAs,” Pulido said. “We were focused on that one, that was our target, and I think…everything worked out in the end. I feel really happy with the results.”

Pulido was dominant the entire season. During the fall stretch of the schedule, her times fell at every meet, culminating in times of 51.82 and 1:55:30 in the 100 and 200 yard backstroke races, respectively, at the Purdue Invitational in November.

While she is primarily a backstroker, Pulido also competes in butterfly sprint races. She swam in the 50 and 100 yard butterfly events at multiple meets, and even won the 100 yard event at SIU’s A3 Performance Invitational.

Pulido has been a phenomenal swimmer since she stepped onto SIU’s campus. As she has only continued to improve, she’s able to trace how she has back to one thing.

“It’s all about consistency, coming to practice every day, twice a day, every other day. The discipline you need to put into this sport is what makes you achieve your goals and all the things you want to accomplish,” Pulido said. 

Head SIU swim coach Geoff Hanson adds a couple other reasons she has been able to improve. 

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“She’s a super hard worker, she’s accepting of coaching. She makes changes when we ask her to make changes. She’s a good athlete,” Hanson said. 

Despite all of these things, Hanson also traces the swimmer’s improvement back to two things.

“It’s really through hard work and consistency. Through her first two years, she worked really hard, there were just some bumps in the road. This year was uninterrupted all the way through the summer… and then just carried that through from when we started in August, all the way through two weeks ago,” Hanson said. 

Pulido’s second season ended at the Swim National Invite, where she won the 100 yard backstroke. The season, which was littered with rough patches that were “out of (Pulido’s) control”, was far from unsuccessful though.

“She was less than a tenth of a second slower than she was her freshman year,” Hanson said. “[NCAAs] is so competitive and so fast that she just missed out.”

The near miss on NCAA’s and overall disappointment was, according to Hanson, a “strong motivator” entering the 2023-24 season. It also made this year’s outcome even more special.

“It means a lot. It means trusting the process, never giving up. I had such a rough season last year, and trusting the process and just keep trusting my coaches, what I’ve been doing… it just means a lot, and all the effort that I’ve put on,” Pulido said. 

The effort led to big payoffs. Pulido was the first female Saluki swimmer national finalist in 39 years, and came away from the season as All-American in the 100 and 200 yard backstroke races. She also broke the program records in those events, which she had previously held. Besides her 50.73-second 100 yard backstroke, she swam a 1:52:31-second 200 yard backstroke, both at NCAAs.

In addition to her records in backstroke, Pulido also set the program record in 100 yard butterfly at 52.75 seconds. She was also a part of program record-setting 400 and 800 yard freestyle relays as well as a 400 yard medley relay, all of which were at the Missouri Valley Conference Championship meet in February.

But even after a record-setting season like this, Pulido has her sights set on a higher goal: representing her home country of Mexico on a world stage at the 2024 Summer Olympics.

“I’m still practicing to try to qualify for the Olympic Games, these upcoming ones in Paris,” Pulido said. “That’s the main goal, to keep practicing and focus on those Olympic trials, make the cut, and have fun during the process.”

With this focus on Olympic training comes a bit of a difference in training styles. Olympic races are in meters instead of yards, which means that races are several strokes longer.

“Right now, it’s go up with the volume, up with the yardage. Yard to meters is more, so we’ll try to practice more yardage and at the same time mix it with a lot of long course and short course so we can make that balance and make it work,” Pulido said.

Pulido’s dedication to training both in and out of season is something that Hanson thinks benefits the entire program.

“It’s huge. When your best swimmer is one of your hardest workers, that sets the tone,” Hanson said. “Everybody should kind of see that and see what results comes from that kind of hard work and coachability and try to implement that into their own swimming.”

To Hanson, fellow swimmers can draw many things from top performers.

“There’s a lot to be learned, and to have that in our own pool really goes a long way in motivating, I hope, the rest of the group,” Hanson said.

That goes both ways, with Pulido citing her teammates as major contributors to her success.

“I motivate teammates, and they motivate me. We all have the same goals, we all want to make it to NCAA, we all want to win conference. We all want to drop our times, so it’s just the teamwork that we’re working on,” Pulido said. 

Pulido’s story at SIU still has one more chapter left to write: her senior season. She’s not letting her success change anything about how she prepares though.

“The goal part is still the same: PBs [personal bests] next year, try to drop my time even more and of course make it to NCAAs again,” Pulido said. “The process is harder and we need to… improve more details. It’s going to be continuing to keep doing what we’re doing, and we’ll be in a good spot next year.”

Hanson has his sights set high for Pulido too.

“I think having such a big, breakthrough year can also be motivating. It makes her hungry for more, to move up, to chase the national title. That’s kind of the next goal,” Hanson said. 

Fans can rest assured Pulido’s next season will be with SIU. Even with the high level of success she has attained, Pulido has no plans of being anything but a Saluki.

“I’m really proud to be a Saluki. It was never my plan to come here and then transfer and look for better opportunities. My goal here was ‘come and be loyal to my team, my coaches, and just stick and trust what the coaches are doing,” Pulido said. 

“I’m really happy to be here and it feels like home,” Pulido said. “I have so many friends, I like the coaches, practices, environment, the school, obviously. It’s just like, ‘I think I belong here.’”

Sports reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, be sure to follow The Daily Egyptian on Facebook and on X @dailyegyptian.

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