Whitney Myers-Burnett was one of those people you loved to root for, but her narrow misses at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials didn’t overshadow her gold-medal World/International efforts, or her All-American career at the University of Arizona under coach Frank Busch. She explains how all of those experiences led her to what she is doing now in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1 You and husband, British Olympian Simon Burnett, moved west?
Whitney: Yes, we’re in Pasadena. The program is called L.A. Boss, and Simon and I are coaching.
2 How is that?
Whitney: It’s going really well. We have everything from beginning swimmers around 6 years old, to 60-year-olds who are starting. We have Masters swimmers, age-groupers, and college swimmers here over the break. It has been really great.
3 How does coaching affect your view of swimming?
Whitney: It definitely makes you love swimming even more.
4 Are you swimming?
Whitney: Simon and I are swimming even more now – not competing, but mostly for exercise. I am telling my kids to do this, so it gives me a chance to think about ways to tell them how I do certain things. It’s also a practice-what-you-preach kind of thing.
5 So you will swim after coaching and iron out instruction?
Whitney: Yes, you think, “How can I get this kid to fix this part of the freestyle,” and you come up with new drills on how to fix things, and you can try them out yourself so you know what your swimmer is thinking or feeling when they do it.
6 Are you coaching full-time?
Whitney: Simon is. I am coaching but I am also in graduate school at USC to become a physician’s assistant. So even though I still have times where I feel like I don’t know anything medicine (laughs), I do know something about swimming.
7 How did you end up in the USC program?
Whitney: I have always had an interest in science and medicine. I just really enjoy helping people. I think that’s also why coaching fits me well. In both coaching and as a physician’s assistant, you interact with people, listen to their stories, and help them fix any issues or problems.
8 How’s the schooling going?
Whitney: I am very happy with my career choice. I have a year left of school. It’ll be two years in August since I started. I can’t believe it’ gone that fast.
9 I remember when you were about ready to retire, but we didn’t talk at that time. How did you get to that point?
Whitney: Honestly, toward the end of my swimming career, I thought I was continuing to put my heart and soul into swimming, and I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. After 2012, I was ready to take that willingness to take on a challenge, and channel that energy into something else.
10 And that led to PA school?
Whitney: In 2011 I volunteered as a hospital. I started doing some volunteering and shadowing. Everyone’s athletic career comes to an end at some point, whether you are 18, at the end of college, or 30 years old. There is still a lot of life after that. I didn’t want to be fumbling around when my career was over and then one day think, “Oh no, what now?’’
11 With your positive attitude and intellect, I bet you are a great PA candidate. Is that accurate?
Whitney: Well, I feel like as a student I still have a lot of things I have to understand better, or fully understand. As a student, you have someone guiding you, or checking to make sure you do things right, so it’s a step-by-step process, and you get better all along. I just started my fourth rotation, and it’s really interesting, and fulfilling.
12 Do you deal with different kinds of people and ages?
Whitney: I am in a pediatric clinic now, so I will see a 1- or 2-month old baby, whereas I was in a geriatric rotation before this, and I would see someone 100 years old. The responsibility and role changes with each experience and setting.
13 It makes me think about swimming, especially for seniors, and how healthy it is. Does that come up?
Whitney: Actually, for a lot of the older people, and the ones who have arthritis and join pain and aches, swimming is always my go-to. These people need activities and exercise, but their body hurts, so swimming is the perfect sport especially for that part of the population that needs good exercise that won’t hurt.
14 You mentioned you and Simon swimming again. Are you going to compete?
Whitney: Well, we just started Masters swimming maybe two months ago. That has been really fun. I never thought I would be a Masters swimmer. I just love being in the water. It’s definitely a challenge to maintain a certain weight, but like I said, I feel like you should practice what you preach, and if I’m asking my kids to swim or people to maintain a healthy body and weight, I feel like I should be doing that myself. It’s always great how swimming makes you feel.
15 What do you think about the youth movement on the Olympic Team, especially on the women’s side?
Whitney: I mean, the U.S. team did unbelievable in 2012, and with really only a handful of veterans, but a lot of new people. They blow my mind. The sport has really changed a lot. People are swimming fast all the time. I like to see the younger kids being the superstars again. We went through a time where it was older swimmers and college or post-college swimmers on the National Team, and it’s been nice to see it turn over and back to the younger group. It’s not like there are 20 teenagers on the team or anything, but there is a healthy number of them, and they are quality people. I look at Missy Franklin and think, “Her parents must have done such a good job raising such an awesome person.’’
16 A lot of people said former Arizona Coach Frank Busch has done an outstanding job setting a tone and building an environment for success on the National Team. I am guessing that doesn’t surprise you at all.
Whitney: I knew putting someone like Frank in that position would make it a family environment, where you are competitive against other countries but not against each other, because he does not like drama. He keeps the environment positive and low-stress, and fun, but you still get all the work done and when it’s time to go, he is right there. People perform better in those situations, and they enjoy it more.
17 All that time in Arizona, and helping build the college team into what became an NCAA champion, and then the post-grad team into the amazing thing is has become, does that still mean a lot to you?
Whitney: It does. Tucson is a little college town. It’s not a big city, but the facilities are unbelievable – not just the pool and weight room, but the entire campus. The support staff from the training room to weight room and academics is just amazing. Even as a post-grad, why wouldn’t you want to put yourself in an environment like that? It’s nice to see so many of those swimmers doing well. Being a professional swimmer can be a lonely life. A lot of colleges have a couple of superstars, and then maybe a couple of post-grads, but that’s tough once you’re not on the college team anymore, unless you get a lot of people at a high level going through the same thing. At Arizona, we ended up with such a big and talented group of post-grads that it seemed like another team. I swam my best in my years at Arizona, and I credit it to that “team” environment.
18 So close in ’08 and ’12 at Trials – you aren’t the first great swimmer to be in the fraction of a second from making it to the Olympic Team, and your gold medals from the National Team must mean a lot, right?
Whitney: You know, obviously I am very, very proud of everything I was able to accomplish in my career, and everything you have brought up brings smiles to my face. My ultimate goal was the Olympics. Part of me feels a little unfulfilled, but that’s okay, because you don’t have to reach every goal you set to say you succeeded or are proud of yourself, and if your goals are high, that makes the journey mean even more. Anyone can reach easy goals. You define yourself and grow by reaching outside yourself for the goal you dream about.
19 Simon always is so pleasant. Is it as good a match as it appears?
Whitney: You know that I am from Oxford, Ohio, and he is (laughs) from Oxford, England! We really are a great match and good balance for each other. We have similar interests but very different personalities. We push each other to be better at everything we do. We did that in the water, and we’ve just turned it over into life. It’s been really fun coaching with him. You come home after 9 hours of coaching and get to share the experiences and challenges with someone who understands.
20 A life in swimming, and you are back in the water. Pretty neat how it fit into your life so well, for so long, isn’t it?
Whitney: I think swimming teaches kids to set goals and have discipline and make sacrifices for things you are trying to achieve. You start doing that as maybe a 10 to 12 year old, and you just continue to build on those good qualities as you get older. Even though I am not competing, I have kept those qualities in my life, and how I go about things. It’s crazy and pretty awesome to see swimmers go onto such great successes in life and make such a big impact. That says something about the sport, that people love it that much. Why wouldn’t anyone want to be a swimmer? It’s a great lifestyle that keeps you healthy, and happy, and you get to be around great people in your life.