2016 US Olympic Trials – Omaha, Nebraska

As you might expect, the US Olympic Team Trials is a swim meet unlike any other in our sport. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and the hardest (but most important) part of the experience is managing those emotions. While I tried to play it cool, I admittedly had more thoughts of fear and anxiety than excitement and joy. I love swim meets… I love racing and competing; feeling anxious and apprehensive was new, strange, and quite unwelcome. I’m lucky I have great coaches, teammates, family, and friends who all helped keep me calm and sane throughout the process.

For those of you who don’t know, each event at the meet (excluding some of the longer races) is swum three times over two days. Every qualifier swims prelims; the top 16 continue to semi-finals; and the top 8 to the final. I made it through prelims and semi-finals on pure excitement and energy… swimming in front of 12,000 people is crazy! But, heading into the final, I felt vulnerable, knowing that I could potentially have the best swim of my life and still not make the team. Though I was so nervous and scared, I tired to appreciate every moment. When am I going to be in a situation like that again? Regardless of the outcome, what an incredible life experience!! Once again the sport of swimming has given me a gift I could never get elsewhere.

The second I hit the wall and saw 2nd place by my name I felt overwhelming joy combined with overwhelming relief. I did it. I was going to the Olympics. My lifelong dream was now a reality. How do I put that feeling into words? I cant. I can only express gratitude to all the people who played any role (small or large) in my journey. I would not be here if it were not for all of you!!

Although I made the team on the third day of the meet, I wasn’t able to step off that emotional roller coaster just yet. I have met some of my best friends through this sport; I’ve formed incredible relationships with even better people. You better believe that I swam each of their races with them. I experienced their joy when I watched them make the team, and I felt their heartbreak when I watched them just miss it. It was a lesson we have all heard many times made evident and very real… This sport is about so much more than the swimming and the times you go; it’s about the people you meet and lasting relationships you form along the way. That is what’s special, that is what’s important, and that is what’s real.

I am humbled and honored to get to represent the USA at the Olympics. To me, the Olympics is a festival of peace, an revered tradition where the world comes together to accomplish something as a whole while simultaneously celebrating differences. I cannot think of any other event that holds cultural significance in every country in the world. The blanket of the Olympics, like some sort of magic, transcends boundaries and differences, it rises above negativity and hatred, and it is truly beautiful. What an incredible thing to be a tiny piece of thread in that magical blanket.

BHP Biliton Aquatic Super Series

Perth, Australia 23 January – 8 February 2015

Our first international meet of the year is upon us! I was excited to be selected as one of 22 athletes to represent Team USA at the BHP Billiton Aquatic Super Series meet. Let me set the stage… The best swimmers from the US, Australia, Japan, and China compete in a 2-day timed-final event. Each country is allowed 2 swimmers in each event; however only the top 4 places score points. The points are extremely valuable, as the country with the most points at the end of the day walks away with a grand prize of 250,000.00 Australian Dollars.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 4.32.31 PMChallenge Stadium

After a longgggg journey to Perth (I think it took us around 35 hours total), we were excited to get to warm weather and sunshine. Perth is a beautiful city. The people are friendly, the weather is perfect, and everywhere you look you see fresh and vibrant colors. We arrived 5 days before the meet began in order to get acclimated to the 13-hour time change. We spent these days training, getting to know each other, and exploring Perth – the capital and largest city in the state of Western Australia. We got to celebrate Australia Day (think 4th of July type festivities) and took a trip to Cottesloe Beach (apparently where the sharks like to swim) to relax and soak in some rays. Thankfully, we escaped without any shark attacks.

IMG_7950 IMG_7940 Cottesloe Beach and Australia Day

The meet started on Friday, January 30th. We swam well as a team, posting some of the fastest times in the World this year, but Australia brought their A-game and we finished the meet in second place. I placed 3rd the 100m breaststroke (1.07:54), and 7th the 200m breaststroke (2:39.73). I was also lucky enough to get to represent the USA in two silver medal-winning relays, the 4×200 freestyle relay and the 4×200 medley relay. Overall thoughts on the meet… I had a blast! The Australian team members were great hosts and all countries were great competitors. It was a wonderful opportunity to make international friendships, to gain international racing experience, and to represent the USA. Nothing beats getting to represent your country.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 4.32.20 PMAustralia, Japan, China, United States

At the conclusion of the meet, the majority of Team USA headed back to the states. A group of nine SwimMAC swimmers, along with our coach, David Marsh, stayed in Perth for a week-long training camp. I’ve been on a lot of training trips in my career but none quite as fun as this one. In the interest of time, and to not write a novel, let me summarize some of the best parts.

THE HOUSE

The nine of us pooled our money together to rent a house that we liked to call the Real World: Perth house. This beautiful house was 2 blocks away from Cottesloe Beach – again, had to keep an eye out for sharks (I’m only half kidding). The girls got the upstairs suite with the best balcony in the house while the boys got to fight over the rooms downstairs. Tim Phillips, being the youngest, had to sleep on the living room couch all week (but I think he liked his bedroom being the center of activity). We didn’t spend too much time in the house but it was perfect for the week.

ROTTNEST ISLAND

On Tuesday we took a ferry over to Rottnest Island, located about 10 miles off the coast of Australia. The island is only about 7.3 sq. mi., and only 100 people live there permanently. However, it’s one of Western Australia’s most popular destinations, as close to 500,000 people visit each year. The cutest inhabitant of Rottnest is the quokka – a small marsupial that can only be found on the tiny island. Although I say the island is small… it does not seem so tiny when you are biking over its many hills (just ask Jimmy Feign, who got lost and biked the entire island about 3 times). Our workout for the day was definitely cycling. We biked about 12k around the island, stopping at some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen for Ultimate Frisbee, snorkeling, and ocean swimming. After lunch we went back into the sun, although most of us were already fried at this point, to play a fairly intense game of beach volleyball. Let’s just say that David talks a big talk but can’t quite walk the walk 😉 Many thanks to our friends at Western Australian Tourism for the adventure and to The Scene Team for the photos.

 Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 4.21.54 AM Perth

SURF LIFE SAVING

Surf lifesaving clubs are popular establishments in WA. Each beach has its own club, which comprises key aspects of beach lifeguard services and competitive surf sport. The Sorrento Surf Life Saving Club was gracious enough to host us for a day. The idea was that we would do their ‘practice’ in place of our normal morning pool session. We were all stoked… Playing at the beach seemed way better than another practice. Let me tell you… By 8am we were all begging to go back to the pool. Not only did our open water swim consist mainly of getting stung by jelly fish (again, talk to Jimmy who was having a rough week in general), but every one of the events proved too difficult for us to master. No one could balance perfectly on the knee paddleboards or surf skis, no one (especially not Ryan) could figure out the timing of the long boat, and we were completely winded after 2 rounds of sand sprints. Needless to say we left stung, tired, frustrated, and with a huge respect for surf lifesavers. The even more impressive thing is that the club and beach lifeguard duties are completely voluntary. These people were gracious, grateful, and friendly and it was empowering to see the passion they had for their sport and for their beach… Thanks for schooling us Sorrento!

IMG_9236The Sorrento Surf Life Saving Club

SWIMMING WITH DOLPHINS

Best part of the trip and one of the coolest things I’ve done in my life. I have wanted to swim with dolphins since I was young but never got the opportunity… This was a dream come true for me! Terry Howson, owner of Rockingham Wild Encounters, has dedicated his life to swimming with wild dolphins. At a young age, he would spend 10 hours a day, 7 days a week on a small boat following the local wild dolphins at Rockingham. After many months, he had his first in-water encounter with a young female dolphin, who he named Logo. Fast-forward a few months and Logo started introducing other curious dolphins to Terry and began interactions on a regular basis. Terry’s goal was to establish a dolphin swim project that was truly a wild encounter. He did not want to feed the dolphins or take them out of their natural environment to ensure that the dolphin’s natural behaviors remained in tact. Rather than make the dolphin fit into our way of life, he wanted to learn how we could fit into theirs. We were lucky enough to meet Terry and hear his story first-hand. It’s an amazing story and knowing the history of the project made our experience that much better.

After a short safety and instruction session, we were ready to put on our wet suits and hit the water. We linked up in groups of 5 and floated on the surface. Within 30 seconds, dolphins were swimming under and around us, close enough to reach out and touch. Have I used the word amazing enough in this post? No? Ok… it was amazing. We had about an hour of interaction time with the dolphins in the water. I was blown away by how calm, friendly, and curios they were, and how quickly they moved through the water. They are such beautiful animals. When we got out of the water and headed back to shore the dolphins followed and jumped the wake of the boat (also amazing).

I walked away from the day with Rockingham Wild Encounters giddy and grateful for such a cool and special opportunity. Once again finding myself thanking the sport of swimming for all these incredible adventures. Thanks again to Western Australian Tourism and The Scene Team for your incredible work.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 4.18.32 AM Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 4.21.47 AM

After a few more pool practices, ocean swims, and days in the sun, it was sadly time to begin the journey back home. You can view more photos of the trip here. Thank you, Perth for such a wonderful trip. I cannot wait to come back one day!