By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Phtotos Courtesy of Rutgers Athletics
Not all swimmers win Olympic gold, but a lot more than we hear about win gold in life. Kelly Harrigan won gold in the 200 back at the 2007 World University Games, after an All-American career at Rutgers. She took her tenacity into graduate school, and became a veterinarian, Dr. Kelly Harrigan. She talks about how her past shaped her present, and what she expects in the future in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Starting with a tough one, where is the sport now compared to when you competed?
Kelly: The sport is increasingly more technical. Stroke technique, suit technology, new training techniques and increased resources are helping to evolve the sport
2. Who do you admire in your specific event – I know this is probably an easy question, right?
Kelly: Surprisingly it is not that easy because there are so many great swimmers. I have always admired Natalie Coughlin. Along with being an amazing athlete, she was humble and would always shake your hand. She was always smiling, and consistently brought a good attitude to the deck.
3. What were your impressions of the US women’s team performance in London?
Kelly: In the past, I have known and competed against the Olympic team members. Although it was a little odd to see a list of new names, swimmers that I have not personally swam against, it was great to see such a youthful team competing as well as they did.
4. What do you think of Missy Franklin’s future – though you two had different career arcs, correct?
Kelly: I didn’t truly excel until I started to swim at a collegiate level. Since her career path is so different than mine, I am curious to see where it takes her.
5. As someone who was competing when Michael Phelps started, what do you make of his career now that he is done?
Kelly: Through his accomplishments, he helped bring the sport much needed publicity. He has lived every swimmers dream and I can’t wait to see who the next “Phelps” will be.
6. How much respect do you have, from a scientific perspective, for what Michael put himself through four Quadrennials and four Olympic Games?
Kelly: He has certainly exemplified what the body is capable of doing when you set your mind in place.
7. Natalie Coughlin’s career – you were there in the beginning – what do you think of what she’s done in the pool and out of it?
Kelly: I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of her accomplishments, it has always amazed me what she had been able to achieve in the pool. Outside the pool? As mentioned before, she really brought a positive energy to the deck.
8. How do you explain what the pressure of competing at international meets is like?
Kelly: Obviously competing at international meets is a big deal, but I tried not to psyche myself out. It’s the same 50 meter pool that I put dozens of miles of training into each week. I did my best to think of it as “just another day at the office.” As daunting as they were, the other competitors put their suits on one leg at a time just like me.
9. How did you think our first women’s Olympic head coach, Cal’s Teri McKeever, did in her debut?
Kelly: Coach McKeever has consistently led college and U.S. National swimmers down the path of success, and her contributions to the 2012 Olympic team are nothing less than what I would have expected from her.
10. You see people like Natalie – and even Amanda Beard and Dara Torres – still competing, does it ever make you wonder if you should come back?
Kelly: I left competitive swimming to pursue my career in veterinary medicine. I have no plans to make a comeback as that would require that I make a sacrifice in my professional career.
11. Do you swim anymore, and do you enjoy it?
Kelly: I work four days a week at the clinic, but I still find time to compete with my masters team (Mesa Aquatic Club) and I am very happy with how it balances in my life.
12. You are from Connecticut – where you went to high school – I imagine your thoughts have lately been with the folks in Connecticut?
Kelly: Yes, the recent tragedy hit close to home. My thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected.
13. How do you look back on your college years and what did Rutgers do for you to prepare you for the real world?
Kelly: Rutgers provided me with the education that I used as a stepping stone to get into the UPenn vet program.
14. It seems like such a great school in so many areas – how/why would you recommend Rutgers to someone who is considering different colleges?
Kelly: One of the unique things about Rutgers is the multiple campus setup. It has the comforts of a smaller school but provides all of the amenities you would expect from a larger university with all of its resources. The campus is also beautiful and spilling with history as it was one of the nine original colonial colleges.
15. How did you end up at the job you are at now, and what’s it like helping animals – and I imagine part of that is managing the people who bring the animals to you as well – what’s the challenge in that and how do you handle that?
Kelly: In vet school I decided that small animal general practice was what I was interested in most. There is a good balance between the various branches of veterinary medicine including surgery, dentistry, radiology, and internal medicine. There are some cases where diagnosing and helping the animal is the easy part. Dealing with the people can be challenging at times but it is always gratifying in the end when a patient leaves healthy.
16. What was your schooling like for your veterinary degree and how did you get through such a rigorous program?
Kelly: When looking back I recall more difficult stretches than easy ones. The encouragement of friends, family, and mentors, as well as a realistic foresight of the difficult path ahead, helped me get through it and kept my sights on the end goal.
17. So many people from the national team you were on have gone on like you to be so successful in life – why are swimmers so successful, on average, when they head out into the real world?
Kelly: The same discipline, team mentality, and determination that lead a swimmer to achieve translate into their successes in the real world.
18. How do you stay in shape now?
Kelly: I try to get to masters swim practice whenever I can, but I round it out with other pastimes as well. I get out to long board, paddle board, mountain bike, and snowboard whenever I can. Also, my two rescue Pity mix pups, Hershey and Nestle, take me for lengthy walks often.
19. Who did you and who are you following in swimming now, and after seeing such a dominating performance in 2012 in London (and in Beijing in 2008 for that matter), who are you looking forward to watching in Rio in 2016, and why?
Kelly: It’s great to see some of us kids from the 80s still swimming, with so many up and coming great swimmers it’s hard to pick just a few. I can’t wait to see who the next set of stars will be in 2016.
20. What did swimming teach you about yourself?
Kelly: The challenges that I faced throughout my swimming career helped me realize what I am capable of.