By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Eva Fabian never went away – well, except to start college at Yale, where she’ll be a sophomore this month. The 25K bronze medalist from the World Championship just turned 20 years old last weekend. She talks in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday about where she is as a competitor, what the women’s team is doing in the pool at Worlds, and what she hopes to do in the future.
1. What did it mean to win that bronze after a tough year of not making the Olympic team and finding your way to the podium?
Eva: It was incredible. I was so happy. That race itself is such a journey – just finishing the first 25K race I ever raced a ways back was a big deal. Now, I was ready to race it. This was a close finish, the top three of us – even though most people wouldn’t think it would be that (laughs) close at the end of a race that goes on that long.
2. You remember competing in this distance before?
Eva: Oh yeah, I did the 25K in 2009 in Rome. This was a lot faster than the one we did in Rome, like 45 minutes faster.
3. Even without going to Beijing after the 2011 Open Water Trials, your 2012 was pretty outstanding wasn’t it?
Eva: I have had an amazing past couple of years. I have had some great people in my life. Fran Crippen was a great mentor. The people on the national team, Alex (Meyer) and Haley Anderson, are just outstanding. I went to Yale this (past school year), and going to college is always a big deal in someone’s life. I am so happy with how things turned out.
4. All that academic rigor at Yale – was it quite a balancing act with swimming?
Eva: Oh yeah, going into it I knew what a challenge I was taking on, competing at the D1 level, competing at a high level (for USA Swimming), and taking on the academic course load the students have at Yale. So going in, I knew it was a challenge, but I really didn’t know how difficult it would be. I ended up having these incredible mentors on my team who knew how to balance this huge academic and athletic commitment. They made it look easy. They had extra time to help me out as freshman. That made it easier, having people to look up to. You get better balancing the course load as it goes along. I’m looking forward to this year, and getting back to the best friends I have made at school.
5. To come out of it with high grades, you must be pretty happy?
Eva: I did – I had a really good year, and I am very proud of how I did. I am going to major in music. I love the music department at Yale. It’s amazing. I didn’t know I was going to do that before I came in. One of my courses is Chamber Music, so I played in a quartet this year and it was awesome.
6. You from Yale and Alex from Harvard – almost a requirement to be an Ivy Leaguer to get on the National Team?
Eva: (laughs) Exactly! It really is nice to see Alex be able to do this, do it in school and after he’s graduated – to see someone doing that so well; Alex is amazing. Seeing him do that was, for me, also really encouraging. As you become a student athlete, your respect for student-athletes goes up so much. It’s a difficult thing to do, and requires a big commitment. But it’s totally worth it, and I am grateful that it is something I can pursue.
7. With the level the U.S. open water team has reached, with all the depth on the roster, is it harder than ever to make the National Team?
Eva: It really is, and that’s a good thing for the sport in this country. You go into it and the goal is to be on the National Team. You do everything you can, train as hard as you can going into it, then compete with this amazingly talented field in the U.S., and you know it’s going to be a battle. You want to make the most of it. Look at Haley (Anderson) and how she won gold in the 5k at Worlds. She didn’t make it in the 10k, which she won silver in at the Olympics, but she made the team in the 5k and made the most of it. Seeing how she did that, and how she carried herself, really inspired me.
8. Have you ever seen a more talented roster than what the U.S. women have in open water now?
Eva: We have incredible talent. We have an amazing field right now. We were very strong at Worlds this year – two medals on the women’s side is amazing. Every race, we raced so hard and so well. The international field is so good, and has so much experience. To be able to race them and do it well shows we have even more potential, more room to improve.
9. Plus the U.S. WUGs roster – Ashley Twichell and Emily Brunemann in the 10k – was also world class, wasn’t it?
Eva: It’s just really promising for us. It means as a country we are going to be strong, even through these next few Olympics. We have up and coming swimmers, but also veterans who are good. The sport of open water is becoming so good, so we have to be in a position to challenge the world, and we are already seeing that.
10. Do you hope to swim the 800 at Trials – I always wonder where you are in that, but is that a goal?
Eva: I know, I need to get an 800 in! I was hoping to get one in this summer. But after the 25k, a lot of meets were pretty close, and I didn’t want to go straight to US Open. Of course, Haley goes to do the 800 at US Open because she’s awesome. But as far as me trying the 800 (at Trials), it’s possible. It definitely is.
11. You mentioned the people around you making you better, how much is that the case with your coaches?
Eva: You know, I have amazing coaches. My Dad was an amazing coach, just an unbelievable coach. The coaches at Yale are just amazing. (Yale Head Coach) Jim (Henry) is a fantastic guy, and just an awesome coach. I credit the help I have gotten along the way – and you’d have to include Fran Crippen in that and my older teammates at Yale – with helping develop me as a swimmer and helping me reach the goals I set out to accomplish. The work we do in the pool at Yale correlates to the success I have in open water.
12. What did you make of the U.S. women at World Championships in the pool, particularly Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky?
Eva: Katie is unbelievable! Missy is just such an amazing swimmer, and does so many things so well. I loved seeing them (on the relay), and really, any time you get to see either one of them compete it is so motivating. Both are such hard workers and get amazing results. I am so proud to be on that team and to be able to call them teammates.
13. What are they like away from the pool?
Eva: They are even more incredible as people, really good-hearted, fun and intelligent. They really understand hard work, and they are so talented. Their pool accomplishments are breathtaking, but what’s even better is eating lunch with them and realizing that they are even more impressive as people, with great hearts and great personalities.
14. What advice would you give to a student-athlete starting college this fall?
Eva: Well, a lot goes into it – even applying to school is a big decision, and an important one. Being a student-athlete is one of the most rewarding things you can ever ask for, to represent your school, compete in athletics and get an education. The best part is being around awesome people who make you better, and help you develop as a thinker and as a person. You learn a lot about yourself being around others – especially amazing people.
15. Okay, risking Mom and Dad’s wrath here, since your parents kept a brisk thermostat temperature in you rural home, how did you adjust to the comfy warm temps of dorm life?
Eva: (laughs) It was so amazing! No kidding, I had to change my wardrobe, it was ridiculous! I had to wear tank tops everywhere after years of wearing sweatshirts, hats and mittens (laughs) at home. But really, it was pretty cool, and though I love my family, it was nice to (laughs) warm up at Yale.
16. You love being from such rural roots, don’t you?
Eva: I am from a “country” town, and I love it. Then I end up going to a university in the city, which I also love – it’s not the biggest city, but it is a wonderful city to be in. I really like it. The first thing being in school that was the most shocking for me was being able to walk to restaurants to get food; that was different. I like the life and energy – I didn’t know I’d be such a city person.
17. Yet the way you were raised, there’s nothing you would change, is there?
Eva: Definitely not, because it was very good. The home-school program I did was very much self-directed where I got the textbooks, and since my parents were working they couldn’t teach me all the time. And when you get to college, being motivated like that is essential, because there are things you just have to learn on your own or you can’t move forward in a course or in a major. So that prepared me for college well. At this point, being in college, I love the intellectual conversations that come from being in class, rebounding questions and having other students as great resources. The professor I had at Yale for Spanish this year, just for an example, was a tremendous teacher, but also gave me great ideas of what to see when I went to Barcelona for Worlds. I love being in the academic community now. Definitely though the skills I learned, especially self motivation, while I was being home-schooled helped me a lot for where I am at now in college.
18. You mentioned Haley Anderson – I was concerned about her when she was eighth in the 10K at Trials, but what does it say about her to come back and not only make the team in the 5K, but win gold at Worlds?
Eva: It means that Haley Anderson can do absolutely anything. She is one of the toughest people on the planet, and certainly one of the toughest swimmers. But she’s also an incredible person. And you know this as well as I do, but she is so hilarious. What she did at Worlds was incredible, but she had also done that before, with getting All-American at NCAAs, qualifying for Pan Pacs in the 800 and 1500, and then swimming the 25K in Roberval (Canada). So she has shown she has this in her, again and again. She’s a fantastic racer, and classy athlete. I am especially fortunate to have been her teammate.
19. I would not bring this up except (USA Swimming open water director) Bryce Elser and (U.S. open water coach) Catherine Vogt brought it up – you and Haley still chat about Harry Potter?
Eva: Of course we do! We ALWAYS (laughs) do. It comes up at some point in conversations. But I’ll tell you something that no one who knows us will believe: Both of us forgot (laughs) our Harry Potter books this time! I’m proud to be a part of the Harry Potter generation, and happy it was such a big part of my childhood, and those around. Those books would come out, and inspire a generation of people who loved to read and use their imagination. I hope the current generation has something like that. JK Rowling is one of the most amazing people I have ever learned from, and she’s made a lot of kids care more about reading and thinking anything is possible.
20. Your Dad went to graduate school obviously and your Mom is a doctor, how did that affect you as both a swimmer and learner?
Eva: You know I have always thought swimming was something I wanted to do when I was younger, and playing the violin has always been important to me too, so seeing how hard my Mom works being a doctor, and everything my Dad has to demand from himself, really helped me understand at an early age that no matter what I wanted, I’d have to work hard for it – but I could do it if I went all in and did things right, wasn’t afraid to work hard, and learn how to get better. You have to know going into something that what you put in, is what you are going to get out of it. If something is worth it to you, you have to do the work it requires. So being able to see that on a daily basis in my family helped me from a young age, to understand that anything was possible for me, but at the same time it was up to me to go after it.