Back to my roots: Swimming at US Nationals

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Approximately three weeks ago, I embarked on a trip back to the states. In January I decided to come home for Summer Nationals for a chance to make the US National team. The meet was held August 8th-11th in Irvine California, the same pool where I swam my first summer nationals so many summers ago.

I did not solidify many of the specifics of this trip until late May when I traveled to Charlotte to compete at the Grand Prix Meet, formerly called the Ultra Swim. After a good performance, placing 3rd in the 200 butterfly, I asked my former coach, if I could have the opportunity to represent SwimMAC at the end of the summer.

With his permission, I began the tedious process of planning for a meet. By this I do not mean the training, which is challenging and fun, but rather, the arranging of all the minute details such as flights to and from Europe. Fortunately, I have an amazing support crew, such as my father, who sat on the phone and went over each and every option with me before I booked. I just needed someone to listen to my plans and tell me that I was not crazy and love that both my parents are always ready to lend an ear.

Although they were picking the PanPAC team at this US Nationals, which traveled to Australia directly after the meet, I planned my entire stay, knowing that flights could always be moved and changed (especially true when you fly Southwest!!!) This meant that if I was not chosen to go to Australia I would go home to Sacramento and then head back to Charlotte before departing for Madrid. Knowing that I had multiple fantastic options helped take some of the pressure off of Nationals. You can`t loose when Australia and home are in the mix.

Since I had a lot of trouble adjusting to the time difference when I went to the Grand Prix meet in Charlotte, we talked about arriving in the states long before the meet started. This meant that I left almost two whole weeks before the meet. Normally, I would say that it’s hard not to be with your coach during taper time; however, Taja sent me amazing swim practices that really helped me build confidence going into the meet. Additionally, the SwimMAC coaching staff was absolutely amazing, giving me all of the support and space that I needed to prepare those last few weeks and allowing me to join in with their practices when I could no longer stand the solitude.

There was only one down side to that first week, the Hughes, who graciously offered to let me stay with them, were in Aspen. To top it off, I think that I left Charlotte only 45 minutes before they landed. But I knew that if we could not see each other during this part, we would get our chance later, either after the meet or at another point in the near future.

I planned my whole trip, which meant that I did not fly on the team flights and got in a tad later than the rest of the group. Instead of loosening in the competition pool, I waded around in the 15 yard hotel pool. It’s interesting to watch yourself grow. Years ago that situation would have stressed me out, but now I know that touching water in any shape or form is what’s important. Sometimes the situations are crummy, but that does not determine how you will swim. Instead, it’s all mental, and I was more than mentally prepared. That evening we went to Dave and Buster’s, a Chuckie Cheese for adults to celebrate a teammate’s birthday. I am miserable at video games. Even the ones where you attempt to ride cars, I just cannot get the hang of it and spent most of the night at the skee ball machines.

We spent the following two days relaxing and getting ready for the meet. Wednesday morning I swam my first event the 200 butterfly. Notoriously known as my best event, I went a personal best time in the morning swim, followed by an even faster that time in finals, placing 5th overall. I finally broke 2:10! It has been a mental barrier for so long, and now I am ready to move forward and see how fast I can fly.

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I technically swam the 50 butterfly the following morning. Fifties are not my specialty, in fact, sprinting is not my specialty, as was proven by my 400 Individual Medley the following day. I dropped another 5 seconds from my best time posted at the Spanish Nationals a few weeks earlier, which made for an 8 second drop in one year. I just squeezed into 8th place, which I maintained in the night swim. This was just the confidence that I need to move forward in my training, and was so excited to see where my 200 Individual Medley would be that Sunday.

Saturday was my only day off and after a loosen swim in the morning; I took advantage of my parents visiting and went to Laguna Beach for lunch. On the drive we passed many of the high schools and pools where I competed while still in high school and college. It was fun for all of us to reminisce about the beginnings of my career and all of the ridiculous things that we did! Moreover, I loved spending time with both of them and the ability to catch up in person instead on skype videos.

The following morning I was ready to go! It was the last day of the meet and my favorite event. Jeff had been helping me all meet with my pace, and mentioned that my breaststroke that morning was a little up and down. I tried in my cool down to get it more regular and thought that I had it nailed. I swam the preliminary race in lane 8 of the last heat. When we finished I had posted another lifetime best time; however, upon exiting the pool I was told that I was disqualified for irregular kick in my breaststroke. After reviewing the tape, it was definitely not my same strong breaststroke from the previous days. I was quite ticked off that I couldn’t swim the race that evening, but learned some valuable lessons from watching the tape. Now, more than ever I have the extra fuel that comes with a near miss (http://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_lewis_embrace_the_near_win).

Before I conclude I should explain how the National Team Selection works. They pick the 6th fastest times posted at Nationals. Many thought that I made the team for my fifth place finish in the 200 Butterfly; however, due to morning swims it was actually the 7th fastest time of the meet, meaning that I am one spot off. The good news is that when picking travel teams, they base their selection off of the final places; therefore, I have a slight chance of competing for Team USA next summer.

Although I might not be on the National Team, I had one of the best meets of my life. Like a good red wine, I just seem to get better with age! Part of the success of this meet, was being able to travel with a team like SwimMAC and be surrounded by so many people not only making the team, but also swimming their best times. It was a blast to have the opportunity to swim a relay and on top of that to win the Women’s and Combined categories (the men also won their category, but in good faith I cannot claim to have helped with that success.) I am so grateful for everyone who reached out before, during, and after the meet with words of encouragement and support. I could not have done it without you!!

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Following the meet, I hopped on a plane and took the short ride to Sacramento. The last time that I had been home was right before I left for Spain two years ago. It was fun to see all of the improvements that my parents have made to the house. Andrew was even able to make it back! Our first night we cooked Steve’s famous ribs, creamed spinach and patatas bravas. We all enjoyed spending the evening in the kitchen working together to create a fabulous dinner. To finish off the meal, we invented a new recipe of our famous chocolate chip peanut butter pizookie so that it did not have gluten. We spent the following nights at various new and favorite restaurants, but I think that this was my favorite meal of the week. Chando’s tacos are a close second though!

I, unfortunately, did not have a lot of time in Sacramento, and did not reach out to friends before I visited, just in case I traveled to Australia and so was not able to see too many people. I will just have to catch up with everyone over the holiday season!

After a relaxing and much needed visit with my family, I headed back to Charlotte. This time I got to see almost the whole Hughes’ clan. Fortunately, I was able to see Chapman the last night of Nationals!! We had a lot of family time, watching movies and catching up, exactly what I think we all needed as summer begins to wind down.

I cannot believe how fast this summer has flown by. They say that ¨Time flies when you are having fun” and this summer has been filled with so many wonderful memories and fabulous people that I couldn`t imagine it any other way. I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for me!

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