After swimming a best time at 2012 NCAA Championships last March, the idea started trickling into Alyssa Anderson’s head.
If she swam equally fast or faster, she had a legitimate chance of making the 2012 Olympic Team in the 200 freestyle as a member of the 800 freestyle relay.
While somewhat surprising, even though she’d been a member of past U.S. international teams, the idea that she could be an Olympian gave her a burst of motivation and expectations that she rode into Olympic Trials later that summer.
She went to Omaha never relinquishing her hope that her earlier results might translate into a trip to London. And when she left Trials, she knew she was on the brink of realizing a dream she’d had since she was a little girl.
“I definitely don’t think I was on anyone’s radar or list of pick ‘ems (going into Trials),” Anderson said. “I knew I had a shot after NCAAs, but Trials are tricky and anything can happen. I’m thankful that I was able to perform at that moment and secure a spot on the team. It’s always an honor representing the USA, and it showed in the performances last summer.”
If making her first Olympic team wasn’t enough for Anderson, she had the added bonus of traveling to and competing in London alongside her younger sister and best friend, Haley.
A distance as well as Open Water swimmer, Haley left London with a silver medal in the 10K Open Water competition, joining Alyssa, who won a gold medal with her prelim swim in the 800 freestyle relay.
Alyssa said while the two sisters have taken different paths in terms of college – Alyssa recently graduating from the University of Arizona and Haley still competing for the Pac 12 rival University of Southern California – getting the opportunity to experience the Olympics together will always be one of their most special moments.
“Sharing that experience with my sister is something I can't even begin to explain,” Alyssa said. “Haley and I are different personalities, but we come from the same mold. I see a lot of myself in her, and we are both very stubborn and very competitive. It's been great to create ourselves at different schools. She wanted to pave her own path, and I'm thankful that. It was in the same conference and we were able to see each other a lot more because of that.
“I am just so proud of her. We didn't really talk about making the Olympics much (as kids), but we would watch it together. The only mention (at age 10 with our mom) of it was that if we made it, we would get a tattoo (Haley got the Olympic rings tattoo but Alyssa has yet to commit to anything). But that was really as far as it went. Most of those thoughts we kept to ourselves, or I think just was an innate drive/passion we both had.”
Because being an Olympian was always a dream of hers as she rose through the club ranks, Alyssa said competing in her second Olympic Trials this past summer proved to be somewhat of a life-changing experience both personally and professionally.
When she hit the wall (in the 200 freestyle) and saw the number 6 next to her name – signifying that she had qualified for the final relay spot in the 800 freestyle – she said she was overcome by a sense of exhilaration and excitement she really didn’t know existed.
“Making that Olympic Team was one of the most overwhelming feelings I’ve ever experienced,” Anderson said. “A lifetime of work and a lot of up and downs go into that moment.”
With her college career behind her, Anderson said she is now taking an extended break from training and swimming, exploring other professional and personal opportunities.
She continues to work with Josh Davis doing some of the Mutual of Omaha swim clinics around the country when she can, and is embracing a life for the first time that doesn’t involved all of the sacrifices and time in the water required to swim at an elite level.
“I love that swimming is a lifestyle, and I love the friends I've made because of this sport,” Anderson said. “The fact that I put in hard work and saw results is what kept me coming back. My hard work was rewarded by the best times I would go.
“But since graduating this past December, I’ve discovered that it’s ok for me not to have swimming play such a big role in my life, and I’ve started to really think about life after swimming. It's an exciting time with a lot of unknowns that's for sure. I've been on such a schedule for a large part of my life that it’s different having no set practice times or school projects or classes. It's a good different though.”
While she may not currently be in the water and isn’t training for this summer’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, Anderson said hasn’t completely closed the door on coming back to the pool at some point before 2016 Olympic Trials.
For the time being, she said she’s focused on exploring new avenues in life and seeing where things take her as she moves forward.
“At this point I'm not thinking about 2016,” Anderson said. “Swimming is a sport that takes full dedication and focus, and as of now, I'm enjoying my time away from swimming and I don't know if my future has a pool in it. As silly as that sounds, I am giving myself the option to come back to the sport if I get an itch to get back in, but as of right now, it's exciting to be exploring different options in my life.”