Catching Up with Katy Freeman
Photos Courtesy Tim Binning/The SwimPictures.com
By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Katy Freeman may have just finished her first year of law school as a Trojan, but at her core, she will always be a Gaucho.
“Being in LA means I’m still close enough to cheer on my University of California Santa Barbara Gauchos at meets from time to time, which I love as I’m still a Gaucho at heart,” said Freeman, who graduated from UCSB in 2009 and now attends the University of Southern California.
“Stepping away from swimming and moving on to graduate school made for a year that was full of changes, and, though it has certainly been challenging, it has also been very exciting for me.”
Freeman’s return to college life came after she spent four years focusing almost exclusively on training.
After graduating from UCSB and making her first National Team, she made the decision to continue training. At that point, she said she thought she likely would train through the 2012 Olympic Trials but always told herself that if she ever came to the point that she no longer had the passion, it would be time to walk away.
After struggling with several injuries in 2010 and 2011, she said she was finally healthy and putting in some of the best training of her life leading up to the 2012 Trials. She had planned to see how Trials went and then reassess whether to continue training.
As it happened, she tore the cartilage in her knee about 10 days before leaving for Omaha. And even though she went ahead and competed, she failed to swim near her best times (or even the times she had been doing in practice) and did not make the finals in either of her events.
“Having been able to ‘tough it out’ and fight through injuries to swim well in the past, I was devastated by the effect this injury had on my performance and by the fact that all of the work I had put in was not reflected in my times,” Freeman said. “I knew I couldn't retire with this meet as the finale; I felt as if I needed to redeem myself.”
A week after competing in the semifinals of the 200 breaststroke in Omaha, Freeman underwent knee surgery, with her surgeon giving her a 50 percent chance of ever training breaststroke again.
She said she did a lot of soul searching during her time confined to the couch and decided that she would give training her very best shot for one more year while she applied to law schools.
“Though I was non-weight-bearing for almost three months after surgery, I was back in the water pulling with a buoy and pushing off walls with one leg as soon as my stitches were out a week post-op,” Freeman said. “By about 5 to 6 months after surgery, I had worked back up to light breaststroke kicking and I set my sights on (2013) summer Nationals.”
That meet proved to be the final one for Freeman. She finished fourth in the 200 and sixth in the 100 breaststrokes events at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, recording her best non-tech suit times in each event.
It was exactly what she was hoping for – and she said she experienced a feeling of redemption for 2012 Trials.
“I had one final opportunity to represent myself, and my team and coaches, in a way I felt proud of,” Freeman said. “I was comfortable moving on from swimming at that point because I could look back without wonder or regret. Learning in September after starting school that my 200 breast time qualified me for the National Team, which I had failed to make the year before, was icing on the cake.”
Now that she’s stepped away from competitive swimming, for the first time in her collegiate career, Freeman said she is able to focus exclusively on school – something new and different for her this time around.
She said her decision to leave swimming and start law school is a goal she’s had for many years, having always been interested in law but was never 100 percent sure what area she wanted to practice.
“My experiences as a U.S. National Team member opened my eyes to the intersection of law and sports, and made me more and more aware of the possibility that my background in swimming and passion for sports could be carried over into a legal career,” Freeman said.
“Having been on the athlete side of things for so long, my dream is to be able to protect and fight for athletes’ rights on the legal side. This summer, I have the amazing opportunity to intern for Howard Jacobs, who represents athletes in everything from doping cases with USADA to eligibility disputes. Seeing him in action working with athletes while familiarizing myself with the process has been incredible so far. I’m loving every second of it.”
And is she missing training and competing or thinking about a potential return in two years for 2016 Olympic Trials?
Respectively, yes and maybe.
“I miss training and competing immensely,” Freeman said. “Being a swimmer has been such a huge part of my identity for so long that making the adjustment from seeing myself as a full-time athlete to seeing myself as a full-time student and future lawyer has been every bit as difficult for me as adjusting to the rigors of grad school. I have worked on coming to terms with the fact that I don't have to leave swimming behind completely; I just have a different role – fan – and hopefully one day, advocate for the sport or its athletes as well.
“As I have any time someone has asked me over the past year, I hesitate to say I am ‘officially retired’ because it just seems so final to me. I can honestly say that, at this point, I have no plans to compete in the near future and doubt that I will make a go of the 2016 Trials, but I also believe that anything is possible, and I’ll have to see where I find myself as 2016 gets closer.”