Trials and Tribulations: Lisa Boyce, Part 1
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Each month, as part of our “Trials and Tribulations” series, we’ll give you an inside look at an Olympic Trials qualifier. If you have a story to share, please email Trials.Tribulations.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imagine attending one of the most prestigious and academically challenging universities in the world. Expectations are high. Pressure is maximum. The classmates who surround you could be a future senator, CEO, or even President of the United States. Now imagine – through all of that – you also swim upwards of four hours per day.
18-year-old Lisa Boyce is a sophomore at Princeton University. Originally from Champaign, Illinois (she grew up swimming for Champaign YMCA) she now swims on the Princeton University swim team. She has qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle. This week as part of “Trials and Tribulations” we talk with Lisa about some of her challenges balancing school and swimming, as well as her motivations for choosing the right college and finding the right “fit” both academically and athletically.
Is it a lot of pressure to go to a school like Princeton, swim, and do well academically?
I guess so. Most of the pressure I feel is internal. I don’t know that I feel that much pressure from the outside. There’s academic pressure because I want to do well. There’s pressure for swimming because I want to do well for myself and for my team. Most of it is self-inflicted. My family has been really supportive throughout my entire swimming career. My mom and step-dad have been very supportive of my goals, even when [my goals] unrealistic.
You attended a small high school in Illinois. How small was it?
We had 62 kids in my graduating class. University Laboratory high school. It was academically-focused. My junior year I was in calculus, and I couldn’t skip a week of school to go to YMCA Nationals. I only did one year of high school swimming.
When you came to Princeton, were you overwhelmed?
Yeah. (Laughs.) It was definitely a challenge. It was a difficult transition. I thought I was handling it perfectly. Looking back this year, I realized I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s definitely a challenge. The good thing is everyone on the team is going through the same thing. We hang out, study together. Everyone is equally busy. Some are busier than I am. There’s a lot of support.
Do your coaches embrace the challenges?
Definitely. They realize we have a lot of work, and if we have an overwhelming amount of work, we might miss one afternoon and make it up later. We have to reschedule. Although I haven’t had to do that.
Did you put more energy into school or swimming growing up?
Swimming. It requires both physical and mental energy and focus.
Take me through a typical day in the life of a Princeton athlete.
We get up nice and early and head down to the pool for morning practice, at 6:30am. After practice, we go to the dining hall together. We have breakfast. People will split up at that point and go to class, or go back to rooms, depending on what their schedule is. For the people who don’t have class at that time, we meet for lunch. Then we study, or take classes, or napping, if there’s time for that. Then we have practice at 4:30. Then we go back to the dining hall. Then to the library or study rooms in smaller groups. And then study until we go to bed. Usually around midnight.
I really liked the team when I came here. I was looking at three main things. The first was who I fit in with best on my trip, who I could see myself spending time with. The second was which school I could see myself going to, if for some reason I got injured and couldn’t swim. I wanted to be somewhere where I could be happy at the school. The third was, which of the women I wanted to be most like in four years.
Who were the women you wanted to emulate?
It was the whole team. I could see myself being like them at the end of my time. I saw them who were older than I was, not in a bad way, but someone who I could grow up to be like. I saw them as very mature and very much – I don’t know, poised. They seemed like good people.
What’s been your hardest experience thus far?
Last spring, I didn’t do a particularly good job planning my schedule. I took 5 classes. Normally the course load is 4 classes, then you have to take 5 one semester either freshmen or sophomore year. I did that last spring. I ended up having 5 papers due and 4 finals all within 3 weeks. That was very stressful for me. I was up very late many nights in a row. At the last moment, I got it done. We have this thing called Dean’s Date where all the papers are due by 5pm, because if you want an extension, you have to go to the Dean. All my papers had to be turned in by hand. They weren’t electronically submitted. I finished my last paper not very much before 5pm. I was running around trying to turn them in to all different buildings.
Are you excited for the Olympic Trials?
Yeah. Definitely. I’m really excited to go. It’s my first Trials. It’s something I’ve wanted since I was 8 years old. I’ve dreamed about going to Trials and competing there. It’ll be really fun. We’re training – there’s a group of Princeton swimmers staying and training for Trials together. We’ll be going together as a group. I think 13 or 14 have cuts, then a number of people are close. We have a big team. 43 women are on the team. We train at the same practice times. We have split practices. We come together on Saturday mornings. The women all train at 430. So we’re with some of the guys. But then some mornings we’ll swim everyone together.
What advice do you have for kids looking to do well in school, and in swimming?
It’s important to have a balance. When I was looking at schools, I picked schools that were strong academically and in terms of swimming. Just making sure that both aspects are covered. Like I said, I picked a place where I would be happy just going to school, even if for some reason I couldn’t swim. Because at some point, there will be a life beyond swimming. I wanted to be prepared for that. You have to like both aspects – school and swimming. I wouldn’t pick a school just for the swimming. I would make sure there is some balance, if that’s going to be your focus.