Hoover third-grader Juliana Van Slyke started swimming as early as she could, mastering diving and flip turns at age 6.
So it’s no surprise she competed in the Junior Olympics this summer, at age 8. “I’ve always loved the water,” says Van Slyke.
The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) hosts the Junior Olympics, a 12-sport competition, every year. This year’s Junior Olympics was in Des Moines, Iowa at the end of July.
Van Slyke earned the bronze medal in the 8 and under division for the 50-meter butterfly, while also placing in the top eight for her other four events: 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter breaststroke, 50-meter backstroke and 200-meter relay.
Getting to Des Moines meant putting in a lot of work. In order to compete, Van Slyke had to make the top eight in all events based on her results from the previous year. For the past year, she has been coached by Pittsburgh Elite Aquatics Group’s Megan Bilko.
She started swimming while she was accompanying her father, Justin Van Slyke, on business trips. “She always enjoyed swimming in the pools where we were staying,” he says. “I thought it would be a good idea for her to start competing. “We went to tryouts and I had her swim one lap,” Justin Van Slyke says. “She was out of breath and I thought she was going to hate it, but she came up and said ‘That was so much fun!’”
Van Slyke’s inspiration to compete at the top level was seeing another Mt. Lebanon native, Leah Smith, earn a bronze medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics.