Sophia Kosturos: Swimming through it all

Perseverance and determination pushed graduate student Sophia Kosturos to a historic performance at the SEC Championships.
Sophia Kosturos smiles with a photo of her swimming in the background. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Sophia Kosturos smiles with a photo of her swimming in the background. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Lexie Perez

At a young age, Sophia Kosturos fell into a pool at a playdate. After an incident that could have ended badly, Kosturos was put into swim classes by her parents, a decision that should go down in Vanderbilt sports history — for on that day, a legend was born.

Technically, the legend was born five years earlier on the coast of California to parents Katie and Tommy. Kosturos considers herself a “water baby” due to growing up surfing and swimming in the ocean. Thus, when she started to swim competitively, she was a natural.

“I did summer rec team for a while and then I exceeded that and went to club swimming,” Kosturos said. “I did club swimming until the end of high school and then committed to go to UCLA my junior year.”

Drawing interest from UCLA, one of the nation’s premier programs, was no small feat. In high school, Kosturos was a four-time NISCA All-American. Despite competing in the cutthroat California Interscholastic Federation, Kosturos claimed eight top-10 finishes at the CIF state championships. In fact, Kosturos graduated as the state record holder in the 100-yard backstroke.

After four years at UCLA, Kosturos found herself with one year of eligibility left. Hoping to open a new chapter in an unfamiliar place, Kosturos looked inland. On top of a strong swim program, Kosturos hoped to attend a school with an exceptional academic reputation. Additionally, Kosturos sought a school that would help further her ambitions in the medical field.

“Academics is very prestigious [at Vanderbilt],” Kosturos said. “The Medicine, Health, and Society program really stuck out to me. It seemed like something that could help me prepare for a career in medicine, whether that be practicing or another role.”

Kosturos’ transition to Vanderbilt was far from smooth, as a wrench that had been thrown into her swimming aspirations junior year had not been removed and was still causing unwanted problems. Kosturos began to feel hip pains during her junior spring at UCLA, which was diagnosed as a groin strain that would subside with simple rest and time. Despite persistent pain, Kosturos was unable to schedule an MRI until June of her senior year. By the time her results arrived in August, Kosturos had already committed to Vanderbilt and was in the midst of a hiatus to heal. The tests revealed that Kosturos had actually been suffering from a torn labrum, a much more serious injury that would require potentially season-ending surgery.

“It was definitely a mental hurdle that I had to get over to be able to commit to this year,” Kosturos said. “I wanted to give everything that I had left to Vanderbilt since they were giving me this opportunity.”

Kosturos decided to put off the surgery until after the season to see her commitment through. She had never been a quitter, and the same determination that got her to UCLA and Vanderbilt was what kept her alive through the struggle.

“I’ve never quit anything before, and I didn’t want this to be the first time that I did,” Kosturos said. “Swimming has been a part of my life for 17 years and I just thought that I needed to finish it.”

In spite of every painful kick, Kosturos persisted. In spite of her inability to practice more than once a day and the crushing prospect that she might never return to her old self, Kosturos persisted.

“I had to learn to have grace with my body and be happy with my times. They were decently far off of what I swam last year, but that’s okay,” Kosturos said.

Over time, Kosturos found strength through the Vanderbilt swim program’s community. Her teammates checked in day after day even though she could never give them a positive answer. Furthermore, her coaches made her feel heard, never pressuring her to race.

“[The coaches] were very cautious of what caused me more pain,” Kosturos said. “It was nice to be able to communicate with them. They listened to me.”

Kosturos also thanked Vanderbilt’s training and medical team for their constant care, citing the many visits and checkups she had to help her along her recovery process. The input and checkups with various doctors helped Kosturos mentally prepare for her impending surgery and enter it without fear.

Kosturos’ resilience shone through at the SEC Championships in Auburn, Ala., where she was a driving force behind a pivotal moment in program history. At the meet, 14 new team records were set with Kosturos being a part of six — tying teammate Ellie Taliaferro for the most contributions to the record books at the meet. Kosturos set new records in the 50 back, 200 medley relay, 50 free, 200 free relay, 100 back and 400 medley relay.

“I think this year was definitely a turning point for the Vanderbilt swimming team,” Kosturos said. “I’m sure my records will be broken considering the trajectory the team is going.”

The meet was a bittersweet experience for Kosturos, as leaving behind competitive swimming would entail losing the bonds shared between teammates and the refreshing exercise from workouts.

“Being around my teammates was fun. Being able to see all of my teammates at UCLA or Vanderbilt every single day,” Kosturos said. “[Swimming] makes you feel really good after you do a hard workout … So I miss that.”

While she may be done with competitive swimming, Kosturos is certainly not done with the water. Kosturos has a longstanding interest in teaching swimming, which she will likely continue following her college career. One of Kosturos’s first swim coaches taught her the value of technique — how it could make humans not designed for swimming comfortable and relaxed in the water. Now, Kosturos hopes to pass that knowledge onto the next generation.

“It’s rewarding to be able to teach someone how to love the water the way that I found love for the water,” Kosturos said. “It was something that brought me joy and I love being around children.”

Kosturos may have fallen into her friend’s pool by mistake 17 years ago, but between practicing, teaching and surfing, she has made the water her second home. Though injury may have blocked her aspirations, Kosturos’ years of hard work still produced one of the finest swimmers in Vanderbilt history. In her last dance as a collegiate swimmer, Kosturos blazed a trail for the future of Vanderbilt swimming. Her story of perseverance will be a cornerstone of the swim program for years to come.

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About the Contributors
Vincent Xu
Vincent Xu, Sports Copy Editor
Vincent Xu (‘27) is planning on majoring in economics with a minor in data science in the College of Arts and Science. Outside of The Hustler, Vincent enjoys playing sports, watching sports, talking sports and a couple of other things that are sadly unrelated to sports. He can be reached at [email protected].
Lexie Perez
Lexie Perez, Graphics Editor
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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