Celina Li was born July 25, 1995 to parents Philip and Yvonne Li in Madison, Wisconsin. The tallest in her family at 5″3, Li was born in the Midwest but raised a California girl who lived in Pleasanton, California. Younger sister of Jing who swam at Georgia Tech, Li always wanted to be like her older sister. Following in her big sister’s footsteps, Li started her swimming career at the age of five. As a representative for Foothill High School from 2009-2013, Li was a three-time champion in the 200-yard IM, a two-time champion in the 100-yard butterfly, and a four-time California North Coast Section MVP — she was also a multi-time member of the U.S. National Team.
After high school, Li committed to the University of California-Berkeley where she would swim under head coach Teri McKeever. Li wrapped up a phenomenal freshman Pac-12s with a Pac-12 Championship in the 400-yard medley relay, a 2nd place finish in the 200-yard individual medley, and a 3rd place finish in the 400-yard individual medley. She went on to the 2014 NCAA Championships to earn a 3rd place 200-yard individual medley finish (1:53.85), 8th in the 400-yard individual medley (4:08.02), and 5th in the 400-yard medley relay.
At 2014-2015 mid-season point, Li had ranked 2nd in the 400-yard individual medley (4:09.89), 3rd in the 200-yard individual medley (1:53.85), and 3rd in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:10.84) in school history. At the NCAA Championships Li advanced to the final of the 200-yard IM, where a strong front-half earned her a 6th place, and an All-America honor. On day two of the NCAA meet Li didn’t have as great of a swim in her second event, the 400-yard IM. She added just about five seconds, still posting a phenomenal time, finishing 20th. On day three she switched out the 200-yard breast for the 200-yard fly, attempting to give cal more points in that event. She struggled on her back-half, and finished 47th.
2011 World Junior Championships
Li first stepped on to the international scene in 2011 as a representative of the U.S. at the 2011 FINA World Junior Championships in Lima, Peru. In Peru, Li finished eighth in the 100-meter butterfly.
2012 was a big year for Li as she represented Team USA at three competitions and qualified for the US Olympic Trials. Li competed at the 2012 Junior Pan Pacific Championships where she finished second in the 200-meter butterfly (2:11.07), third in the 200-meter IM (2:14.16), third in the 400-meter IM (4:42.17), and sixth in the 100-meter butterfly (1:00.49).
In that same year, Li represented the US at the 2012 FINA Swimming World Cup in Berlin and Moscow. In Berlin, Li placed third in the 200-meter butterfly and third in the 200-meter IM. In Moscow, Li finished fourth in the 200-meter and 400-meter IM’s. The summer of 2012, Li qualified for her first Olympic Trials in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke, the 100-meter and 200-meter butterfly, and the 200-meter and 400-meter IM. Her highest finish was 6th in the 200-meter IM with a final time of 2:13.34.
2013 U.S. Open
Li carried her success in to the following year. In 2013, Li earned a silver medal in the 200-meter IM (2:12.72) and in the 400-meter IM (4:39.47) at the 2013 U.S. Open Championships. Her performances at the 2012 U.S. Open earned Li a spot on the 2013-2014 US National Team as a 200 and 400 IM’er.
2014 Phillips 66 National Championships
At the 2014 Phillips 66 National Championships Li swam a seventh place, 2:12.86 200-meter individual medley, earning her a spot on the 2015 World University Games roster.
2015 World University Games
Li’s 2015 collegiate season earned her a roster spot on the 2015 World University Games Team. She competed in the 200-meter IM, advancing to the semi-finals, and finished 11th overall.