Let's Go Swimmin' Women
I know that many of you are knee deep in March Madness. I get it! But there are a few other NCAA championships going on right now and one that is very close to my heart. The Women’s NCAA Swimming Championships are taking place from March 14-17 in McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion in Columbus, Ohio. Yes, at Ohio State…or as some say, “The Ohio State”.
I just looked over the “psych sheet” (which is how everyone is ranked, time-wise, going into the meet) and I am blown away by the parity. Yes, my Stanford Cardinal has quite a few amazing swimmers seeded in the top spots with Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Ella Eastin, Brooke Forde and Janet Hu but you also have top seeds from Wisconsin, Elizabeth Nelson, Louisville, Mallory Comerford, and Tennessee, Erika Brown. Also in the mix for individual titles are schools like Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota and Eastern Michigan.
You may think I have lost my mind focusing on the schools when I am talking about an individual sport. But I haven’t, at least not at this moment. To me, the NCAA’s were the absolute best and even during an Olympic year, they were my favorite meet. Seriously, and by far! I knew that I was the only person in my lane charging through every lap and every turn of my 400 IM but it didn’t feel that way. I was very aware that I had 24 amazing and fierce women willing me to swim faster than anyone else. And fierce is what you have to be.
The meet is a killer. Yes, the events don’t start until later in the morning, with prelims beginning at around 11am. But these swimmers get up early anyway and are in the water for a wake-up swim at around 7:30am. Then they go back for breakfast and return to the pool a few hours later for a real warm-up. The real warm-up is about 1500 yards…or more.
They then swim their prelims in hopes of qualifying for the night finals, not because they want to win…well, that might inspire some…but because they want to score points. Every point matters! And you can score points from 1st place all the way to 16th!
After the morning session, the women will go back their hotel to eat and rest and eat some more. They will then return for finals. And that is when the magic happens. It’s loud and it’s ridiculously fast! Non-stop excitement. And you don’t have to understand swimming to get it. But, the evening session won’t get over until LATE. I remember the second night of the 1992 NCAA championships I was eating dinner in my room at 11:30pm. I don’t know how we physically did it. And then I would wake up and do it all over again.
They are riding an NCAA high that takes them to the final night. That is when the Team Champions are determined. And most times, you have to wait until the final few races. But the wait is worth it. My first NCAA’s was in 1991 and we lost to Texas by a small margin. I had won all my races and was awarded NCAA swimmer of the year and although I was proud, I was not happy, because WE were defeated. That next year at the 1992 NCAA’s, we took home the Championship. It is, to this day, the greatest moment in my swimming career. Yes, more special than my Olympic moment. Why, you ask? The answer is simple really, because we did it as a team.
We battled all year long at 6am, well before the sun came up. We battled every afternoon for hours, together. That kind of training, where you enter the “pain cave” several times a week has an amazing bonding affect on a team. We would sometimes have the most difficult workouts 5 practices in a row. For days, we would walk onto the pool deck for practice thinking that “THIS ONE HAD TO BE RECOVERY” only to given a workout even tougher and more grueling than the previous one. And everyday, no matter how tired we were, we would do a team cheer, most times it was “BEAT TEXAS”.
These women are focused. For some, they are focused on their personal goal in terms of placing or times, but for many it is their moment to represent their school and themselves in the fiercest way possible. I treasured the time I had with my teammates. Oddly, I had a feeling I needed to soak up every second of my collegiate athletic experience. And so, I did. I only had two years as an NCAA Stanford swimmer because I gave up my eligibility after my sophomore season to take endorsements leading into the 1992 Olympic Games. 1992 was the year I went from the most stressful meet of my life, the Olympic Trials, to, one week later, the best meet of my life, the NCAA Championships. I am so grateful I was a student-athlete. I am so grateful I was able to represent Stanford University. And I am so very grateful for the ridiculously talented team we assembled in 1992!
Enjoy your week swimmers and as my coach, Richard Quick, used to say,
“LET’S GO SWIMMIN’, WOMEN!”