By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Two days before her first event at Olympic Trials last summer, Catherine Breed received some disturbing family news that shook the foundations of her world and threw her off her swim game.
The news proved so shocking that she swam distracted and downright sad, finishing a disappointing 14th in the 200 and 41st in the 400 freestyle events.
This essentially began an 11-month period of turmoil, breakups, injuries and ultimately personal and professional growth from which she is still learning and emerging.
Now, just over a month away from the anniversary of Trials, Breed knows she’s become a much more well-rounded person and swimmer as a result – and is ready to move forward with an open mind and a clean slate.
“I am enjoying swimming more and not focusing on best times or making a National Team but on having fun and being the best teammate and captain I can be,” said the Cal-Berkeley junior-to-be. “This part of my life (swimming) could be over in 2-3 years, and I want to be able to walk away knowing I did my absolute best.
“As for outside of the water, I am much happier. Now that I have dealt with my struggles, I am able to listen and be there for my friends and teammates, and be a better “me” for them. I am looking forward to this summer and this upcoming year.
Complicating her situation, Breed reinjured her left knee in February while doing a cartwheel as part of her dry land training. Once the swelling went down, she learned she had re-torn her ACL – an injury she has endured in high school while skiing.
“I’m actually pretty good at cartwheels, but I landed this one poorly and started to run before my legs were set,” Breed said. “I heard a pop and collapsed. I knew instantly because it felt like the first time.”
She was still able to swim at NCAA Championships in March, but not being at full strength limited her. Although she earned individual and relay All-American honors, she wasn’t able to swim her best or fastest. She finished 14th in the 200 free and helped her Bear teammates to a third-place finish in the 800 free relay.
Just as she had with her parents’ breakup before Trials, Breed said she took the injury in stride, waiting to have surgery until after she returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic at the end of March to work with orphans. She went with a few Cal teammates, who are currently working to raise $14,000 for the children to have a summer camp, after losing their state funding.
“Swimming was a major source of struggle and stress for me this year, and it was evident in my times in the fall,” Breed said. “After getting help from teammates and from (Head Coach) Teri (McKeever) and (Assistant Coach) Kristen (Cunnane) things started to get better – and then I tore my ACL.
“It was a huge blow, but through everything I had been through, I started getting even more involved in Athletes in Action (a Christian organization on campus), and my faith definitely helped me through everything.”
Now, almost six weeks removed from her ACL surgery, Breed is rehabbing and working hard to get in shape for World University Games later this summer in Russia.
She was back in the water a week after surgery, and with swimming being a low- (or no-) impact sport, she has been able to work back into a full training schedule – although she still can’t do flip turns (no pushing off the wall).
For the time being, she is just pulling during practice, not using her legs much, which she said has proven to be tough to adjust to.
“It’s very difficult for me because I love to run and I am a 'kicker' not a 'puller,’ but I'm just trying to be patient and let my knee heal,” said Breed, who intends to declare her major as integrative biology in the pre-med program. “I am getting stronger, but it’s different because I have always relied so heavily on my legs. I’m not changing my stroke, but I do have to pay more attention to my core, back, and technique. I don't want to come out of this with a shoulder injury.”
Prior to WUGs this year, Breed is scheduled to compete in the Arena Grand Prix at Santa Clara at the end of May as well as the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships (World Championship Trials) in Indianapolis in June.
Regardless of her outcomes this summer, Breed said she is excited for the future, especially next year at Cal, where was elected captain for the 2013-2014 year.
She said her family, while still recovering from last year’s events, is getting stronger every day, and she has grown closer to her mom through the process.
“Things really aren't better (for her family) by any means, but I have learned how to handle it better,” Breed said. “And more importantly, I’ve learned to take care of myself before I get involved in that drama, and I am much better at asking for help. But it’s through all that, that I am now in a place where I can be there for people when they are struggling.
“I have grown so much this year, and with the help of my teammates, Teri, and Kristen, I made it through some very difficult times. I definitely feel that God has prepared me to be a great leader and role model for the team. I think really great things are going to happen at Cal. I am SO excited for World University Games.”