Trials and Tribulations: Eric Knight Update
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Three months ago, we met Eric Knight, a SwimMAC Carolina Elite Team swimmer now training for the Olympic Trials. The six-foot-seven athlete has gone from a non-swimmer in high school to a walk-on at George Mason University, to an Olympic Trials qualifier. It’s an amazing journey that is proof that Olympic Trials journeys don’t have to begin at 9 or 10 years of age. They can start as late as college.
This week, we catch up with Eric. And if YOU have a story to share with Trials & Tribulations, please email me at Trials.Tribulations.email@example.com.
Where are you at now with your training?
We’re tapering. Just started, which is, as you well know, obviously the best time of the year. It’s very individualized with Coach David Marsh. It’s not anything cookie-cutter with the group. For me, I started cutting back on the reps of weights and increasing the actual weight itself. Instead of doing four rounds of six, I’m doing four rounds of two. It’s explosive at this point. Guys like Josh Schneider and Nick Brunelli are doing two rounds of two reps with max weight. Everything’s specific. A lot more dryland. The aerobic, the light aerobic 140-160 heart rate has increased. We’ve decreased the hard aerobic. Not so much lactate stuff. We’ll do it twice a week, but it’s shorter stuff. We’ve been working hard all year. We get to enjoy it. I’ve been broken down all year. It’s exciting to feel fast in the water.
Three months ago, we talked about how you were dropping time in practice. Have you continued that trend?
Oh yeah. More so than the last time we spoke. My max weight on certain exercises has ramped up far beyond what I thought. In January, we were at the Olympic Training center, I was hang-cleaning 165lbs. Now, I’m repping 215 and max 225 for one round. So if I can do that, that’s amazing. You have the teammates around you, people building you up. You get real excited. Absolutely that’s transitioned to the water. Unfortunately the endurance is not there because I’m broken down. But I’ve got the front-end speed.
What sort of things does your training group do to prepare for the Trials? Anything on the mental side?
We have a sports psychologist that works with us individually. I’m not one of those guys who listens to music. I enjoy the atmosphere of the meet. I go into the meet with no pressure at all. I’m not expecting to make the team. I’m just going to be free. Race relaxed. Enjoy the moment. That’s when I swim my best. I am so confident right now, the only thing that can slow me down right now is, God forbid, an injury. I’m eating right. Sleeping more. I’m super confident going in.
What are you swimming at Trials?
I’m swimming the 50 and 100 free, and the 100 and 200 breast. I’m most looking forward to the 100 breast. The 200 breast will be great too. But the freestyle is just fun for me. I understand the 100 free is before the 200 breast, but hey, I’m at Trials. I’m going to be in shape to do the double. I’m not expecting to make the team. Why would I scratch the 100 free when I’ve worked so hard to get the cut? David said, “Why not?”
Are you getting excited for the next few weeks?
Taper is the best time of the year. A lot of people put pressure on that. They know they’re contenders. There is some palpable pressure. A lot of our guys are fighting for the same spot, but we support each other. Everyone is honing in and focusing. It’s an amazing thing when the group elevates to this level. It’s awesome. There’s no way to explain it. It’s something I’ve never had. I’ve got a team here that is so supportive and so awesome.
How are the other guys on your team doing with preparation?
Well, Team Elite has 17 athletes. All 17 of us are going. Of the club team SwimMAC Carolina, we have 38-40 people going. I think Arizona might have more than us, but we may be two or three in terms of size. If not #1. I trust my coaches. I trust David and Peter Verhoef. I’m confident on my own. Knowing what I’ve done this year, and the intensity and dedication, I know I’m going to swim fast. I cannot control what anyone else does. It’s me and my lane, and that’s it. Based on my swimming in college, when I go with my mindset into a big meet, I’m going to tear it up. I don’t think I could have ever reached this level if I didn’t have the teammates I have. Especially when I have guys who say, “I can’t wait to see what you do at Trials. You’re swimming great right now.”
Any friends or family coming to watch?
Oh yeah. Quite a bit. Family, not friends. I have friends all over the country who will be swimming at the meet. I have 12 family members going. I have a lot of family support. I’m the only swimmer in the family. And I have the SwimMAC family. Any SwimMACer has the support of the family cheering for them. That’s the culture here. Parents who don’t even know us cheer for us.
What’s the one thing you’ve learned with this journey of yours?
I think learning what it takes to swim at a high level, to see it first-hand every day, is such a privilege. So few people get to experience it in any sport, not just swimming. This is like training with an NFL team. The top of the top. In college, I was comparing myself to who I was racing. Now I’m comparing myself to this team. Sometimes it gets me down when I get smoked by younger kids. But then I say, “Wait a second, I’m comparing myself to the absolute best in the world.” I can’t complain. I don’t expect to win medals. But I’m hanging with them. Training with Swim Elite and seeing what it takes, you learn a lot about your limits. You have people supporting people. Because you’re around it, your expectations change. David said, “Stop being surprised when you swim fast.” I remember when I came in and did like a 20.4 in practice. I had never done a 20.point in college, in mid-season, in a meet, ever. David said stop being surprised when you swim fast. That’s what you’re here to do. Embrace it, and keep going. Don’t ever think that what you do in practice is good enough. I appreciate the work, of course. You’re always capable of more. Always