Last summer, I achieved a goal of mine. Since my freshman year in college, I set the goal to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in Swimming, and I did – qualifying to swim the 200-meter breaststroke. When I qualified for Trials, it did not fully sink in as to what I had accomplished. It did not fully register what I would have the opportunity to do the following summer in Omaha.
I arrived in Omaha at the end of June this summer. One could tell the city was hosting several elite sporting events. The College World Series flags were hanging on the light posts throughout the city. There were giant posters of Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps covering the entrances of the Century Link Center. Entering the Century Link Center is when it started to feel real. I was about to compete at probably the biggest swim meet in the world, besides the Olympics. When I arrived at the Center I had to provide identification to get my security pass and Trials gear bag. To get into the warm-up and main pool, the athletes were required to be screened by the National Guard for credentials and a bag check.
The first time I entered the main competition pool, I was awe struck by size of the arena and the stands that would hold over 10,000 fans during competition. Upon arrival in Omaha I swan in the competition pool as a means to get a feel for the water and the pool. While I was kicking on my back, I saw the Olympic Rings and the United States Olympic Team Logo on the jumbotron and knew that this was something special. This adventure continued for the next week since I arrived in Omaha on Friday and would not compete until the following Thursday. On Monday, I saw and cheered on my Richmond teammates Hannah Gouger (Class of 2020) and Lauren Hines (Class of 2013). As the week went on I watched swimmers compete in their events and the joy of making the Olympic Team or just competing at the biggest meet of their life. My nerves were starting to build up.
On the day of my race, I went over to the pool early to get in a wake up swim, which was followed by a good breakfast at the hotel. I went over to the pool for a second time to get my full warm up in and pace work. It was suggested to be in the ready room about ten minutes prior to the projected start time of your race. I made my over to the ready where Matt was waiting for me. He gave me some final words of encouragement as I entered the ready room. When the heat before mine was almost done, the marshals lined up my heat, collected our credentials, and paraded us up to the pool deck. I will never forget the feeling I had behind the blocks. What a combination of nerves and excitement. There I was standing behind the blocks seeing my face on the jumbotron as the camera panned the participants in my heat.
After my race, it was like it never happened. My race went by so fast. Usually the good things go by quickly without you even noticing them. However, the experience of competing at Olympic Trials is one I will never forget. Looking back on my experience, I am sure I did not soak everything in like Matt keep reminding me to.
I will remember walking out of the pool area into the convention center lobby and having lines of children waiting to get autographs. One day when I was walking out, a group of kids asked for my autograph. To say I was shocked is an understatement. In my head, I was confused to why they were asking for my autograph I am not Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin or Katie Ledecky. But to those kids, while I was not a big name swimmer, I was an Olympic Trials swimmer hopefully giving them some inspiration that one-day they could be here.