Trials Reflections: Katie Meili
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Katie Meili broke her hand three weeks before the Olympic Trials. The Columbia swimmer still competed. She later swam in the U.S. Open and accomplished personal best times last week. Meili shares with us her reflections on the Trials, the Open, and her hopes for her senior season at Columbia University, where she hopes to improve her 5th place NCAA individual 100m breaststroke finish. You can read the article about when she broke her hand before Trials here. Photo courtesy Columbia Athletics.
So let’s talk about Trials. You broke your hand three weeks before. How did that affect your preparation?
It certainly affected the training I got in before Trials. It was a mental challenge getting ready to leave for Omaha and I wasn’t in the shape I normally was in for big meets. It was hard to find a way to swim fast, pull it all together regardless of what happens. That was challenging. But when we left, as soon as I got to Omaha, I was so excited. Excitement took over. Excitement and energy – it was a whole lot easier to get focused.
What were your thoughts before your first race? Did you think about your hand?
I was feeling great that morning. I felt good in the water. I was hopeful it was going to be a best time or close to a best time. I was nervous, but more excited. I wasn’t thinking about my hand at all, because it was pretty healed. I was excited to swim. I was looking forward to swimming. The swim wasn’t bad. It wasn’t a best time, but it was still a good, solid swim. Especially for me in the morning. I was a little disappointed, and a little angry that it wasn’t what I hoped it would be, but I had the next day off, so it was easy to take it all in, “OK, this happened.” All things considered, it was a pretty amazing swim. The 200 IM was a good time. Right around my best time. As the week went on, I was more excited to be there. I realized it wouldn’t be a break out meet, but I had another opportunity at the U.S. Open.
What were your thoughts when you first stepped out on the deck before your race?
It was really exciting. I was nervous because I was in the first circle-seeded heat. But they waited to march us out because NBC was showing the heats on TV. They took their time, and I was in lane 10 so I was the first one to march out, and the guy was like “No you have to wait,” and I was like “I just want to go swim!” For me, I was trying to think of it as just another race. I’ve been at big meets – not as big as that – I love the energy.
After Trials, what was your reaction?
I was very proud to be there. I was excited to have the opportunity, and blessed to have the opportunity. But I knew I could do better than that. I took the whole week as a great experience, and I said, “Ok, I have this, and now I’m going to get to where I want to be in four weeks.”
Your journey wasn’t over at Trials. You swam in the U.S. Open. How did you do?
I did really well. I went a best time in the 100 and 200 breast. I got 6th in the 100 breast. I went a 2:33.0 in the 200 and a 1:09.68 in the 100. At Trials I was a 2:36 in the 200 and a 1:11 in the 100.
What was the difference between Trials and the Open?
When I broke my hand, I was out of the water for four days. And then the training in the water was sparse because I was limited with what I could do. Breaststroke was the hardest thing to swim because the way I angle my hand when I breaststroke pull. So I wasn’t able to swim a lot of breaststroke before Trials, or swim a lot of yardage, period. When it comes down to it, I wasn’t in great shape at Trials. It was very frustrating to know I was at this big meet but wasn’t where I should be. When I got back to NYC, I talked to my coaches. They gave me a plan, and I did it and it was a lot of work to make up for the 3 weeks I lost for Trials, but I had a great support system. My family is so supportive. My teammates were supportive. So it was easy in the end when it mattered. But I was so happy at the Open when the work paid off.
Was it hard going from the Trials to the Open? Was it difficult in terms of motivation?
I was extremely motivated after Trials. Being at that meet was motivating, but it was mainly the fact that I knew I had more in me. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I knew it was there. I wanted to do the work for it to show.
Looking back, is there anything you’d change, besides the obvious broken hand?
No, I don’t think so. It was hard and the most hardships I’ve had to face in all my swimming career, but the thing about that is, I learned a lot about myself as a swimmer and a person. All those hard days together, that’s what makes you good.
I know it was a freak accident, but are you thinking about your hand now when you push off the wall or finish?
Definitely. I get really nervous in warm-ups when I push off and pass people. I think I probably always will be from now on.
What’s next for you in terms of your swimming career?
I’m a senior next year. I want to go to NCAAs and place higher. I’m in love with the sport. I don’t want to stop. But I know all things have to come to an end eventually. I’d keep doing it if I had the opportunity. I want to enjoy next year with my team. I’m excited for the Columbia team to get together and accomplish our goals.
NCAAs could be my last meet. There are a lot of things yet to be decided. I know my team does a lot of Grand Prixs long course, if it’s available. But I’ll have to wait and see on whether if I’ll get a job, stay in New York, go to Texas, go elsewhere. I’m going to take things one step at a time and wait and see.