Caitlin Leverenz: Living Her Swim Dream
By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Making the leap from college to professional swimming can be easy for some and difficult for others.
For Caitlin Leverenz, who finished a very successful collegiate career in 2013 with the UC Berkeley Bears, that transition hasn't been without its challenges, but overall, it’s been a terrific evolution.
“Transitioning from college swimming to professional swimming has really challenged me to change my motivation,” Leverenz said. “College swimming is all about getting better for the girls around me. Luckily I still train with the same girls, so I just use that same motivation in a different way, and I do my best to help them get better as a team, too. The environment at Cal is challenging and is motivating in itself.”
“Being a professional can be challenging to balance the enjoyment of swimming and having it feel like a job. What I have discovered over the years is that I swim the best and enjoy it the most when I am finding joy in the process of what I am doing, instead of only focusing on things like results or making money.”
Based on her results over the past seven-plus months – highlighted by finishing as the top U.S. female in this year’s Arena Grand Prix Series – few outside of Leverenz and her coaches would ever know she has faced struggles and some uncertainty along the way.
Coming out on top of the series (Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu was the overall winner) was the culmination of a long but successful year for Leverenz – and a goal she set for herself at the beginning of the year.
The outcome has reinforced her decision to not only stay and train with her former teammates despite being done with classes but also to continue to pursue her next big goal: earning a spot on this summer’s Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championship and 2015 FINA World Championship teams.
Once thing is certain – she’s enjoyed being able to focus on swimming and swimming alone.
“This is definitely living a dream!” said Leverenz, the current American record holder in the 200 and 400 individual medley (yards) events. “I don't think I ever imagined that I could be swimming for my job. I feel very blessed to be where I am in life and still really enjoy what I am doing.
“This is the first time in my life that I have only swum without going to school, so I am excited to see what I can do with this opportunity. We have a small post-grad group on the women's side at Cal right now, but I still know that it’s the best place for me to be. I am very thankful that Teri (McKeever) and Kristen (Cunnane) still allow me to train with the college in an environment that I believe to be very unique and special.”
With the Arena Grand Prix series completed and still a month to go before the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, Leverenz said she will compete in the LA Invite this month as one last tune-up.
From there, she will put in a week or two of training and rest – and then it’s time to race.
She is well aware of the opportunities available at Nationals this summer, for this year and next year, and she has some firm goals for times and finishes in her sights.
Leverenz also said she’s ready to do a little watching from the stands, too.
“I am definitely feeling some pressure and some excitement to get ready to race,” said Leverenz, the 2013 National Champion in the 200 IM. “With how well Katie Ledecky has been swimming, I am definitely excited to see her swim and maybe some more records will go down!
“I am also really looking forward to seeing my teammates race – Missy (Franklin), Rachel Bootsma, Elizabeth Pelton and so many others. We have been training really well, and I think many of the girls on the team will put together a good meet. That always makes me excited!”
Having been a member of the most recent Olympic team in 2012 (and winning a bronze in the 200 IM) as well as last year’s World Championship team (fifth in the 200 IM), Leverenz said she has tasted international success and is ready for more.
With the next Olympic Trials just under two years away, she is already looking ahead and doing whatever she can to keep getting faster and better – although she realizes therein lies the challenge.
“Dropping time definitely gets harder as I get older,” said Leverenz, the 2007 Pan American Games gold medalist in the 200 breaststroke. “It can be tough to stay motivated and interested as well, but something that helps me a lot is that I just seek to find the joy in the process of training and learning instead of in the results or times at certain meets. As I get older, how I approach my swimming and training has changed a lot, too, so that helps as well.
“(The next) Olympic Trials are coming up faster than I thought. There is still time though and I need to get in a lot of good work between now and then to make the team and medal again.”
Being just 23 and in the prime of her swimming career, Leverenz said she hasn’t thought much about where swimming might fit into her life after 2016.
She wants to take things “one quadrennial at a time,” even though she is recently engaged and planning a wedding for this January.
Suffice it to say, a lot can happen between now and 2016 – and she knows it.
“I am not closing that door, just seeing how things in the next few years shake out before making any decisions,” said Leverenz, a bronze medalist in both the 200 and 400 IM events at the last Pan Pacs in 2010. “Collin (finance) and I also got an American Mastiff puppy in April. So, between planning a wedding and playing with my five-month-old puppy, I have my hands full. Both are great outlets that bring me balance and joy outside of the pool.”