By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
After 15 years away from the pool, Janet Evans returned to training and competitive swimming last year. Maybe you’ve heard?
She admits if she had come back in 2000 or 2004 or even 2008 to attempt to earn a spot on her fourth Olympic team, it would have been largely for selfish reasons.
But having recently passed the 40-year mark and with her family older and more self-sufficient, Evans realized if she was ever going to give competitive swimming another go – a final go – her window was quickly closing.
Now was the time to do it for herself and see if she still has the same “it” that led to Olympic gold medals and world records.
“I’ve had a family and have given them all my attention, but it is nice to do something for myself again,” Evans said. “And the best part about this time around? It’s not really about winning; it’s about the journey and proving to myself and everyone else that I can do it, that it really is never too late to accomplish your goals and dreams.”
Over the course of her career, Evans has certainly proven that she has nothing else to prove. In her prime, she was the premiere female distance freestyle swimmer in the world, becoming the first woman to win gold medals in the 800 freestyle at back-to-back Olympics (1988 and 1992) and World Championships (1991 and 1994).
When she walked away from the sport following the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (she didn’t medal but did carry the torch for the U.S. team in the opening ceremony), Evans took 45 U.S. National titles and seven world records with her – along with the 1989 James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States.
Along with being a mom and wife (married in 2004), Evans has spent her retirement as a motivational speaker and corporate spokesperson, but it’s just been within the past year or so that she said she has really been missing swimming.
“It’s a part of my soul; I missed it and I needed it,” said Evans, a 12-time U.S. Champion in the 400 and 800 freestyle events. “It makes me feel kind of complete. I like motivating others as well, and my main reason for making a comeback is to show other middle-age women that it is possible to pursue a life passion, even after taking time off to raise a family and achieve other goals.”
Evans admits coming back to the sport that has given her so much has resulted in a renewed sense of self and purpose outside of family and home.
“It’s almost like I’ve gained a piece of me back again,” Evans said of her return to the sport. “Swimming was my whole life before I got married and had a family. So being back in the pool and competing again, it’s kind of like I’ve gotten some of myself back. Plus, it has whipped me back into shape again – I haven’t felt this healthy in a long time.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I decided to come back to swimming, but I’ve literally amazed myself. It really is true that you can do anything you put your mind (and body) to.”
Despite the rigors of her comeback – early morning training, thousands of meters in the pool each day, change in nutrition, weight training and on-land strength sessions, etc. – Evans said she is completely satisfied with her decision.
She has created her training schedule – from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. and then again for two hours in the afternoon – so she doesn’t have to miss breakfast with her kids or dinner with her family to allow her to be able to do what she loves.
“I get to swim and have my family time, too,” Evans said. “It’s a win-win, and I couldn’t be happier. My daughter doesn’t quite understand my routine and sometimes asks me why I swim in the dark, but all in all, the reaction has been nothing but positive.
“My husband has noticed that I’ve been more alive after starting to train again. I feel great inside and out. I’m healthy, happy and going after a goal that most people wouldn’t even be able to attempt at my age.”
And while she remains realistic (yet optimistic) about her chances at Trials this summer, she said she has no regrets about giving competitive swimming another shot.
“I would’ve had regrets if I decided not to come back. I really thought that I had one more chance, and if I had let that pass me by, I would be asking myself ‘what if?’” Evans said. “Luckily, my family and kids have given me the support to go for it again – that is the only way I could have made it happen.
“When I go to Trials, there still won’t be any regrets. I’m giving this last shot my all, and that’s all I can do. I’m along for the ride, and if it doesn’t result in a gold medal – that’s OK. I think it’s pretty impressive that I’m even a contender at 40 years old. I’ll mostly be racing for the pure thrill of it, with no expectations.”