Photos courtesy Todd Van Emst/Auburn University
By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
What happens next summer could very well dictate Kyle Owens' future in the sport of swimming.
Preparing to graduate next spring from Auburn University – and hang up the goggles and Speedo on his career as a Tiger swimmer – Owens is already looking forward to the next phase of his life as a cardiologist.
But before he starts medical school (he has applied to five schools and is waiting for their decisions), he wants to see what he can do in the water next year, first at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships and then either at FINA World Championships or World University Games (which he has already qualified for).
Positive results could mean three more years working toward a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team. Disappointing times and finishes could mean he’ll be ready to trade in his goggles and cap for a stethoscope and white coat.
“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, and watching my mom go through what she did several years ago with chemo, losing her hair and being sick from breast cancer, made me want to do it even more, to help people fight disease,” said Owens, a biomedical science major.
“I’m excited for World University Games next summer – it will be my first senior international competition even though I was invited to be a part of the 2011 Pan American Team – but I’m also being realistic. If I’m ranked among the top 16 in the world after next summer, it might be worth continuing to train. But if I don’t swim like I think I should, I am OK with leaving the sport and moving onto the next phase of my life.”
For the time being, Owens said he is focused on his last campaign as a member of the Auburn swim team, and he sees big things for himself as well as his teammates because of their strong relationships and closeness as a team.
Following what he calls a “rollercoaster” summer – where he was down at Olympic Trials (made the finals of the 100 backstroke but was sick the rest of the meet) but up at the U.S. Open (won the 100 back and finished fourth in the 100 free to qualify in both for WUGs), Owens said he has emerged a more confident swimmer and competitor.
He expects that to translate to faster times and better results during SEC dual-meet competition as well as the conference meet and NCAAs in February and March, respectively – not to mention next summer.
It’s the continuation of the physical and emotional development he’s experienced during his four years at Auburn – the program that saw potential in him out of high school despite not having great swimming credentials.
“I didn’t have any big gains in high school, so I definitely attribute my improvement as a swimmer to my coaches and teammates at Auburn,” Owens said. “The biggest improvement has come in my strength/weight training, which is very power-oriented at Auburn, and my sprinting has improved as a result of that, along with my technique.”
Considering that Owens didn’t start swimming competitively until he was 14 and came late to swimming in general – joining summer leagues at age 12 – he believes that has kept his attitude about the sport fresh, and he hasn’t fizzled.
Because U.S. Nationals happen before WUGs, Owens said he has discussed with his coach the possibility of making the U.S. World Championship team (decided at Nationals) and traveling to Barcelona instead of Russia for WUGs. With several post-Olympic retirements in his best event, the 100 back, he feels he has a good shot at making a run at the World team if he can pull all the pieces together.
Whatever happens, he said he is focusing on his senior season and getting ready for WUGs, as well as whatever path his life takes in and out of the pool beyond 2013.
“Making the finals in the 100 back at Trials really helped me realize more is within reach and that future teams are a real possibility if I continue to train hard and improve,” Owens said.
“Before Trials, I honestly didn’t think twice about swimming much beyond this season, and now I can see continuing on toward 2016 and the Olympics in Rio. We’ll just have to see what happens next summer. I’m prepared and excited for what’s next either way.”