By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
As someone who has enjoyed the daily structure of swimming since he started summer league as a kindergartener, Charlie Houchin has been straying from his norm on an abnormal scale over the past year.
After making the U.S. Olympic team last summer and winning gold as a member of the 800 freestyle relay in London, Houchin took the next three months off – not even stepping near a pool.
He returned to training in October and eased back into structured practice. As he has prepared for the upcoming Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships which begin June 25, he banked on the time off coupled with a new perspective about swimming and life to propel him to greater results.
If that means he makes the 2013 World Championship team (decided by results at Nationals), great. If it means he swims a great time but comes up short, he’ll be disappointed. But at this stage of his career, he said it’s really more about the process than the payoff – although he always strives to make National (and international) teams.
Swimming is his livelihood, after all.
“I recently returned from 16 days training at altitude in Colorado Springs, so I’m feeling good about my swimming despite taking that time off last year,” said Houchin, who trains at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., with a host of up-and-coming national-level swimmers. “I’m adapting back to sea level, but I will most likely continue training this week and then taper before Nationals. I’m excited to see where my times will be in Indianapolis.”
“It’s important to mix things up, try to new things in and out of the pool to keep things fresh and fun. You always want to keep the things that work, but giving yourself something new keeps swimming fun. (Bolles Head Coach) Sergio (Lopez) has done a great job doing that for me.”
During his time out of the water last fall, Houchin did a lot of traveling, visiting friends and pursuing a new hobby – duck hunting.
Because of the demands and sacrifices of competitive swimming, his free time has been limited, so he said it was great to get away and do some things he doesn’t otherwise get to do.
Spending quiet time in the wilderness, sitting patiently in a duck hunting blind gave Houchin plenty of time to reflect and appreciate all that he’s accomplished in and out of the water.
He said he’s hooked now on the recreational activity – and that it’s nice to be near a body of water and not feel the need to jump in.
“There are no walls, no lines, no structure – just you and nature, and I love that about it,” Houchin said. “It’s swampy, murky water most of the time, so there is no desire to dive in, but there is something really great about this unstructured part of life that calls out to me.”
While much of his national and international success in the water has come recently – a little later than some male swimmers – Houchin said he’s glad to be hitting his best times at a point in his life when he can truly appreciate the accomplishment and not focus solely on the outcome.
Self-described as a “late-grower” figuratively and literally, Houchin experienced a good bit of success as a little kid but then his results tapered off the older he became. It taught him about humility and hard work, and he embraces those now, more now than ever before.
During his time at the University of Michigan, he admits he strayed from the structure he had come to rely upon, and it impacted his swimming results. After college, he moved to Fullerton, Calif., to train with then-coach Sean Hutchison at FAST, and he introduced Houchin to that lost structure.
Now, as a professional, he is focused on doing anything and everything to maintain that structure in his life and swimming – and the results speak for themselves.
“When you’re at the top and then you’re not any more, even as a kid, it really affects you, whether or not you fully realize it at the time,” said Houchin, who graduated in 2010 with his degree in sports management. “You can either take it dishearteningly or you can use it to motivate yourself to want more.
“I’m as motivated now as I’ve ever been, and the changes I’ve made in my life as a professional swimmer have paid off. In my training, I try to do something different each day – focus on power one day, race pace on another, threshold sets on another, etc. – all while keeping focus on the stroke.”
While excited about the opportunity to swim well at upcoming nationals and make his second World Championship team, Houchin said, just as he did at Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games last summer, he will approach the meet as the “end-all.”
He said he knows the outcomes will take care of themselves, and he will rely upon the structure and hard work that have put him where he is today.
“It’s easy to spend so much time earning a spot that you lose sight of why you’re really there: because you love swimming,” Houchin said. “I know I’m still having fun, and I’ve let the performances take care of themselves.
“Personally, I try to focus on the moment whenever possible – the fans, the sounds, the memories, the friends. Those are the things that stay with you no matter where you are or where you go.”