By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
A year ago this time, Tyler Harris was rising and shining at 5 a.m. as he trained and prepared for summer Olympic Trials.
Now living and working in Las Vegas, these days Harris usually doesn’t hit the pillow until 5 a.m. because of his job in hospitality with Caesar’s Palace.
The change in bedtime isn’t the only difference between 2012 and 2013 for the University of North Carolina All-American swimmer. Following a disappointing Olympic Trials (finished seventh in the 400 individual medley and sixth in the 200 IM and didn’t make the team), he is taking some time away from hard training and competition to reassess the role and importance of the sport in his life.
He hasn’t abandoned swimming altogether – he’s simply “taking a break” while he figures out how much he wants to get back in the water full-time and give competitive swimming and a shot at making the 2016 Olympic team another go.
“I pretty much stopped (swimming) after Trials,” said Harris, who graduated from UNC in 2011 and moved to Manhattan Beach, Calif., shortly after graduation to focus on swimming and train with Trojan Swimming. “I was thinking about going through until the U.S. Open (last August), but my heart and mind were not really into it.”
After Trials, he returned to California and moved to Venice Beach – getting away from the high cost of living in and lots of traffic in Los Angeles. He didn’t swim for several weeks, and steered clear of swimming pools for a while as he recovered from the disappointment of the summer.
“I needed to step away from the pool for some time,” said Harris, the 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Champion in the 200 IM. “It's a grueling sport, as we all know, and I wanted to do something completely different for a change. I also wanted to start my professional career.”
A journalism and mass communications major at UNC, Harris landed a position as a host for SBE Entertainment, a large company in L.A. that runs nightclubs, hotels and restaurants, and worked there until last month.
Wanting a lower cost of living with the same employment opportunities, he moved to Las Vegas to accept a position as a VIP marketing host for Angel Management Group. AMG owns several nightclubs and restaurants on the Vegas Strip, and his job entails booking clients and marketing the venues every day.
“It's a lot of work, but I have already met so many people from around the world,” Harris said. “I never know who I'm going to meet on any given day. I’m very happy with the decision (to move). I'm learning a lot about myself, working hard professionally and how to communicate effectively with complete strangers.
“People hear ‘night club’ and they automatically assume all I do is party all the time. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It's a full-time, suit-and-tie job, six days a week.”
He added that he regularly uses the work ethic and dedication as well as the values he learned from swimming on the job.
“Simply put, hard work and dedication,” Harris said. “Swimming has taught me these values that will help make me a successful person in any challenge.”
Now more than nine months removed from Trials, he said the time away from competition and heavy training (he still works out regularly and has recently started swimming with a Master’s program in Vegas) has given him a fresh perspective about the sport.
He said he feels refreshed, and time has helped him realize how important swimming was and remains in his life.
“I absolutely miss it,” Harris said. “Nothing feels better than conquering a tough workout or representing your country internationally. Nothing I'll ever do will bring the same feeling of satisfaction that swimming provided. I also miss the people as well and all the different personalities in the sport.”
Harris said he hasn’t ruled out a return to full-time training and making a run at the 2016 Olympic Team, but he’s not ready yet to make the decision or commitment. He’s also saving money from his full-time position so that he can financially support himself should he decide to come back.
“The balance is rather difficult, so I'm trying to save up and get back on stipend for the 2 years leading up to Trials,” Harris said. “I was invited to Short Course Worlds last year, but declined because having a full-time job and swimming was just going to run me down both mentally and physically.
“But I think I'll return (full-time) if I have a ‘moment’ where I fully realize what swimming has meant to me. If I'm going to return to the sport, it will be before 2014. I believe two and a half years should be enough time to get back into the sport, and I think my training this time around will be more tailored to the 200 IM.”