Photo by Ben Beitzel

Photo by Ben Beitzel

From the time she first splashed into a summer league pool as a 6-year-old, Jackie Rajek labeled herself a swimmer.

She loved the sport deeply and never wanted to give it up, so it remained the one constant from elementary school up until this past season, her senior year at Collins Hill. But even swimming has to share time in the busy teenager's life, starting in middle school when she gave up year-round training at SwimAtlanta.

"I had to stop (year-round swimming) because I was involved in too much other stuff," the 18-year-old said.

The hectic schedule hasn't slowed down much since Rajek began high school. It's only intensified.

The four-year swimming state qualifier joined the Eagles' color guard her freshman and sophomore seasons, and also did one year of winter guard. Those were added on top of her orchestra schedule -- Rajek's an accomplished viola player -- but they proved too time-consuming as a sophomore.

That's when Rajek took up golf, the sport that turned out to be her future. In just three seasons of golf, she's squeezed enough time into her busy schedule to earn a golf scholarship to Division II powerhouse Florida Southern.

And she managed to do it without giving up her other two favorite activities, swimming and playing the viola.

"I've met so many people through all the sports I've played, but people still always ask how I have a social life (with all the activities)," Rajek said. "Really my social life is part of my sports. After swimming and golf, I'll go out and eat with my team. I guess I have made some sacrifices. Maybe I can't go to the movies every weekend with my friends because I'm traveling to golf tournaments. But it's a lot of fun. I love it."

The love affair with her newest sport wasn't immediate though.

Rajek never really played golf aside from a trip or two to the range with her father Tom, a former All-American golfer at Wisconsin-Whitewater. Her father wanted her to give golf a shot, so she relented the summer before her sophomore year at Collins Hill.

"It was more my dad wanting me to try it," she said. "I think was like, 'OK, drag me out there.' ... It probably took me a year to really, really start liking it and thinking it would be a great idea for me to maybe play college golf. I wanted to be good right away but golf is a game that takes awhile. You can't get it in a month. But after playing some, I really ended up loving it."

It helped that Rajek had immediate success. Though she didn't play a round of golf until she was 15, she had a strong first summer with the Atlanta Junior Golf Association and won her final tournament of the season.

She has finished in the top seven in brutally tough Region 7-AAAAA the past two seasons, including a round of 86 last year at Hawk's Ridge that broke Collins Hill's 18-hole course record. The score wasn't quite good enough to get the Eagles to the state tournament, since only the top two teams advance.

But Rajek, with help from talented junior Lauren Court, aims to change that Monday at the 7-AAAAA tournament at The Chimneys.

"That's our big goal, to make state," said Rajek, who fired a 38 Wednesday at the TPC at Sugarloaf despite three bogeys. "It would be really nice to win region, too. But we definitely want to make state."

Though her high school golf career is coming to a close, Rajek will see plenty of the sport at Florida Southern. She considered Oglethorpe, Shorter and Birmingham Southern, but wanted to look at some Florida schools because of the perfect golf weather.

She found the right fit in Florida Southern, which also features smaller classes, a preference for Rajek, a 3.8-GPA student who plans to be an orthodontist. It didn't hurt that she also would join a nationally-ranked golf program, where she hopes to continue her still young golf career.

"I haven't been playing long so I feel like I've got quite a bit of potential in golf," Rajek said. "Golf's one of those sports where you gain a lot from just getting that playing experience."

With each practice and each round, she is catching up with golfers who have worked at their games for many more years.

"She's improved over the years," Collins Hill golf coach Bob Warman said. "Because she does so many things, she doesn't really blossom as a golfer until the second half of the high school season. I can only imagine what she can do at Florida Southern when she focuses only on golf."

Rajek is more seasoned in her other pursuits at Collins Hill, and not just swimming. She began playing the viola in sixth grade and played in her school's philharmonic orchestra, earning a promotion last year to the chamber orchestra.

Her instrument, like her golf clubs, will make the trip for college.

"I've been playing the viola so long, even in college when I won't have much time, hopefully I can find some type of quartet to play with ... I think it would be great to still be able to play in college," she said. "I don't think I'll ever give up the viola."

That isn't the case with swimming, at least competitively. She has to retire the goggles and swim cap when she leaves for college, so swimming didn't just end up sharing time.

It got squeezed out, thanks to her newfound passion of golf.

"I love swimming so much," Rajek said. "It's sad to give it up. But I'm also glad that I can just focus on golf."