By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Monday, December 12, 2016
Part II with Elizabeth Beisel hits some more great times, great current teammates, as well as a trip into the past to some other teammates who are just as amazing to this day. The three-time Olympian explains the benefits of letting your emotions out at the appropriate time, savoring every minute of the moment, and her best friend Allison Schmitt’s courageous battle with depression, in this second installment of a two-part 20 Question Tuesday.
1. You being such a leader in Rio -- you were moved very early into tears when your Florida training buddy Caeleb Dressel hit the medal stand -- overwhelming feeling for you?Elizabeth: Yes, absolutely. So when I cried Caeleb won his first medal and it was because I honestly believe we train in the hardest program in the country. Caeleb being a sprinter, he never backs away from anybody; he will do the distance work, he will do anything. I literally lost it and was so happy for him.
2. What I liked about it, and of course you were moved again the next night and the next after that! -- was that early on it set a tone for the other people that they were welcome to get lost in the moment after their race and express any emotion they wanted to and not feel funny or try to manage it, just to let it go, right?
Elizabeth: Well, blame me (laughs) for that because I was crying the whole week! I had been with Simone (Manuel) since she was little, and Kathleen Baker since she was little, with Caeleb for so long -- I was with these young stars on their first trips. For them to carry us and win all those medals, I wanted them to realize the moment of it. And even those who didn’t win medals, being an Olympian is incredible. So it was important to me that everyone realize whether they medaled or not, how big their role was in this and that the team would’ve never reached the incredible heights it did without every single person on our team.
3. After some tense Games, it all changed in 2012 with a team that seemed really happy and absolutely cared for each other -- how important was that, both in 2012 and even carrying it forward to 2016?
Elizabeth: Oh it was huge in ‘12 and I think that was the first time the USA team in its entirety realized that having fun and everyone being there for each other was the way to swim fast. I remember people saying after London that they had been worried that Allison and I weren’t serious enough -- that we were having too much fun. But then they looked and saw that all of us had the best meets of our career. We were soaking it all in and enjoying it. So Allison and I and Cammile, and Michael, Nathan and Anthony (Ervin, the men’s captains) wanted everyone to tap into that mindset that you should enjoy this sport, even when you are at the Olympics. We wanted to keep that culture and idealistic approach for Rio. I maybe didn’t have the meet of my life but I knew how to lead and make sure they all did and had fun doing it and cared for each other the whole way. You saw everyone’s reaction to each other every time -- it was incredible, the spirit and care on this team.
4. Rowdy even singled you out during a camera close up for leading so well, pretty cool?
Elizabeth: Yeah, I think we did a phenomenal job. And I know doing this interview with you that the focus is on me. But again, I can say I could not have led the team without Cammile, Michael, Nathan, Allison and Anthony. Every single one of us brought something very different to the table, and it was always what the team or someone on it needed in that moment. At our captains meetings, every person in that room had a different idea that we were able to bring all together and make it work. I hope the rookies and younger people were able to see what we created and carry on that tradition, because it is a relatively new tradition, but an important one.
5. You are working, and excelling, at your new reporting gig at NBC 10 (here’s a sample) doing incredible pieces on sports up there in New England and you appear to love it -- how’s that going?
Elizabeth: Because I am still swimming, it is very part-time but it is awesome, I am working for the local NBC station doing stories on athletes and I am a real reporter; I go out for the interview, edit it, I track it, and deliver it on the news live -- in the studio some nights. They’re very flexible with my schedule, very good to me and I am so thankful. I’ll be gone the entire month of December with full-time training, but it’s nice to get this important experience and know I have a great company interested in me. I’d love to do this for a career, so this kind of real world experience is absolutely important.
6. Your club coach, who you still work extensively with, is someone I also consider a mentor and great source of wisdom -- what does BlueFish Coach Chuck Batchelor mean to you?
Elizabeth: I literally talk to Chuck every day. He’s my best friend, a Dad, a coach, and he covers all aspects of the friendship. He’s a person who has helped significantly shape me into the person I am today.
7. One of the great untold, or under-told, stories is Katie Hoff’s graceful, amazing transition out of the sport -- she goes to the University of Miami, earns a degree, marries a great guy, and is on her way -- as her good friend, how impressed and proud are you of her?
Elizabeth: Absolutely as proud of Katie as I am of anyone. It’s hard when suffering from an injury to leave the sport and then not be able to go out on your own terms. It was just not going to work out with the medical issues. So, great thinker as she is, and knowing she can figure anything out, I don’t think she could have handled it any better. She’s doing phenomenal with a great husband, a great job, and like you said, she’s been so graceful about it, never complaining, never living in the past. She always says, “I am so lucky.” I’m so proud to call her not only a sister but a best friend. She was one of those who helped lead and mentor me when I made the National Team. So to stand beside her at her wedding and see it come full circle like that was just amazing. She had a huge influence on who I have become and how I developed, treated other people, and conducted myself as an Olympian and leader.
8. How much does a competitor like you appreciate Lilly King -- the sport’s Chuck Norris -- and her attitude in Rio, and the fact that she backed it up?
Elizabeth: Oh, I love Lilly! She is not scared of a thing. That’s how I was when I was little. Her attitude is, “I’m the record holder. No one can say or do anything to slow me down -- I’ll beat them.’’ Her drive has gotten her so far, and she is one of those few people in the world who literally knows deep inside her what it takes to get up, go race and win. It’s so impressive.
9. Seeing Michael and who he is now -- how do you explain him to people who don’t know him personally?
Elizabeth: There are no words. Greatest of all time. A great human. The greatest swimmer, Olympian and athlete of all time. And the greatest friend. He and his family are so beautiful. Do you know Nicole? She’s as amazing as a person as she is beautiful, and that’s saying something. He is so lucky to have her and Boomer, and the beautiful thing is, he knows that now.
10. And you were side by side with him as you conquered the world on the National Team and Olympics and as he conquered the world once and for all -- yet over and over again. Pretty cool?
Elizabeth: To have him as a peer, a teammate, a mentor, a captain -- I just feel so fortunate to have witnessed all that he did, what it took to do it, and how he grew as a person. Seeing him happy though means the most -- that’s the best and most important memory I have with him.
11. How much does Michael love being a Dad to Boomer -- he literally radiates happiness with his son, doesn’t he?
Elizabeth: Michael is in a zone. He loves being a Dad. It’s Boomer, him and Nicole -- how they have raised him and love him so far is why that little man is so happy. And he really is the smiliest, happiest and giggliest little kid I have ever met in my life. But again, that’s testament to the love and security he feels from his Mom and Dad.
12. How do you describe University of Florida Coach Gregg Troy to people?
Elizabeth: That’s a hard one. Gregg has this tough reputation but his hard training and program -- what he asks you to demand of yourself - comes from such a good place. And that’s why it really works. He’s the one who told me it was time to get my behind in gear and go. He is another man who is like a father to me. He has taught me so much more outside the pool than inside the pool which says so much about him. Those life lessons are so important to me.
13. How about Missy Franklin’s courage and strength this time around because you knew her before London, were with her in London, and then for this last quad and Rio?
Elizabeth: Missy is relentless. This is not the last of Missy Franklin -- not even a chance it’s the last we hear from her. The impressive thing was the way she handled herself. And keep in mind she was still one of the top swimmers in the world at Trials and in Rio. I thought I was under pressure, but I can’t imagine what she was feeling. For her to handle it in a way only she can says a lot about her character and what kind of person she is -- she didn’t waver in who she is, what she believes, or ever stop wanting to have a positive effect on the team. I can’t wait to see what she comes back and does next.
14. You’ve known Allison Schmitt for so long, how about her handling depression and bouncing back from a rough quad to help lead the team and win gold in Rio?
Elizabeth: Oh, I admire her beyond words. I have never been in her shoes, from her challenges with depression to what she went through with swimming. But I have been able to hear from her what it’s like, and that’s where the respect and awe comes from; I have a bad meet and I dwell on that for months. She had three bad years and she’s still so strong, funny and positive. That in itself, sticking with the sport after not being on the National Team for years, is just unreal. I would have given up. Most any other person besides Allison Schmitt would have given up. But that’s what makes her who she is. And she is still goofy and fun on the outside, which is so amazing. No one can have any idea how strong that fire is inside. That’s what she remembers, not the medals or even Rio, but what she found with her perseverance.
15. I remember you as maybe an early middle schooler on the National Team -- can that be right?
Elizabeth: It is right. I’ve come full circle. Right. I remember my first National Team trip. I was 13 years old. And I was (laughs) still warming up in my racing suits. And then another thing, I was so excited to wear my USA cap -- people don’t talk about it but that’s the coolest thing ever, wearing those caps -- but we’re supposed to wear the white cap in the morning, and the black cap at night. I liked the black cap, so I wore it up to blocks for prelim race. My first race ever. And I had to take it off. So here’s the best part -- I ended up wearing a Speedo Cap with flowers on it for that first race because I didn’t have the white one with me, just the black one!
16. What did you learn from the 2008 Beijing Games to the 2012 Games?
Elizabeth: To stop thinking about what everyone else is doing and worry about what you are doing. I remember in 2008 thinking if certain guys on the team were eating at McDonald’s (laughs) before a race that I had to do it -- after I was like, “Come on Elizabeth, that is not a good idea for you!”
17. Then what, in turn, did you learn from the 2012 London Games to 2016 and Rio?
Elizabeth: To appreciate what you really have accomplished. In 2012 I never allowed myself to celebrate because I really wanted that gold. But then I was like, “Wait, I have two best times and a silver and a bronze.” I am so proud of those now.
18. You have owned Pan Pacs, in 2010 in Irvine with golds in the 200 back and 400 IM -- what did that meet mean to your career?
Elizabeth: (Pan Pacs 2010) was an awesome meet. I was coming off a terrible nationals and just barely qualified for the team. My coaches had a meeting with me and just said, “Elizabeth, you are going to kick butt at Pan Pancs, you need to believe that right now.” I believed them. I was like, “Oh my God, you are right, I am going to swim fast!” I have good memories from Pan Pacs. What a great meet and experience. Again, those were awesome teams. I like doing multiple events on one day. My body can take that, and it was an awesome experience -- both times -- that helped my career at key times.
19. Then at the 2014 Pan Pacs with bronze in the 200 back and gold in the 400 IM?
Elizabeth: For sure that was also a key moment -- it wasn’t cool in the moment (laughs) itself to be swimming in torrential rains! But those are the things that shape you as a person; you either let it slow you down or you fight through it and seize the moment. And Katie Ledecky had set a world record the night before! What a tone that set. I might not have set a world record but I knew I would swim fast, and I remember Katie’s swim inspiring us all to find more from ourselves.
20. What have these three Olympics, the 18 All-American honors at Florida, all the medals, what has this journey taught you about yourself?
Elizabeth: I think the one main thing I have learned throughout my career is you are forever evolving as an athlete. I don’t know if I will ever be at my best again. But I also know I am more than a just a fast swimmer. I can provide and contribute in so many ways. And I love playing the violin, and that is a memory from this experience (Head men’s coach Bob Bowman was on piano with her). I think swimming makes you demand more from yourself. So I think I’m pretty fortunate that I found swimming -- or that swimming (laughs) found me. Because all of these people who swim, they are all so smart, so driven -- there are so many qualities that you develop as a swimmer...so of course you are going to see great students at the best universities in the world who are also swimmers, or people leading companies and doing incredible things outside the pool who were swimmers. The lessons you learn from swimming help you reach your potential in whatever you do in life long after you step out of the pool.