By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Coming off knee surgery that derailed her 2016 Olympic dream, Eva Fabian refuses to make excuses and is already back at it. The queen of rebounding her way onto the medal stand after adversity is now a Yale graduate and professional swimmer. To that end, along with her new sponsors, she also joined Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce’s LEAD summit in Austin and wowed the crowd with her speech, proving to be a crowd favorite. The open water ace talks swimming, violin and the future in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. You, Missy Franklin, Madyson Cox, Kara Lynn Joyce and Elizabeth Beisel -- what a lineup that was for Lead in Austin, wasn’t it?
Eva: It was one of the coolest things I was ever part of. I can’t believe I got the honor of being with that group. It was a dream-come-true kind of event to be a part of.
2. What was the focus?
Eva: LEAD stands for Leadership, Empowerment & Athletic development. Basically, it was a summit for young women. A giant swim clinic and conference in an educational setting. I talked about leadership and confidence. The clinic part of it was a fun time to be in the water and pass on some specific technique. We also just got to hang out with them, which was one of the greatest parts, where the casual setting allowed for such great and open exchanges.
3. What was it like hearing Missy and Elizabeth?
Eva: We had amazing talks by Missy and Beisel. I was on the confidence panel. But just to be with them was like a National Team training camp where you have that bonding experience. I’m really proud to be on the mentor side of it and was so thrilled to hear my story resonated with so many young women.
4. Isn’t it unreal for young women that age to get advice from that panel of you women who have faced such unique challenges across the spectrum?
Eva: One of the things we kept saying is, “We wish we had this at their age.” What’s really incredible is Kara had the vision for this and the follow through and drive to get this together to make it happen. When you look at the amount of logistics and work she had to do and the networking, it is a breathtaking accomplishment.
5. You keep mentioning the iterative format -- was that learning from the other panelists and the young women who were attending?
Eva: Oh, absolutely, that was one of the most interesting things about it. And it was so fun to have that responsibility to be on staff and mention, to share knowledge. You can extend your own understanding when you are asked the great questions that we got because you have to walk through each circumstance individually. We learned so much from each other and the amazing group we have there. It’s called a summit because it’s a forum to interact -- to learn from each other. Success means different things under different circumstances. We all would agree that we’ve learned the most from our difficulties; more than we did from any material successes. And to even get to a success there’s a lot of hard and smart work that has to take place.
6. How much fun was it listening to all your National Team teammates?
Eva: For me, that truly was a great part. Even though you meet people on trips and get to know them a little bit, rarely do you get to listen to them for 45 minutes, explain their incredible journey. I would love to go to one of these as a young person.
7. You have these young women 13 to age 18, so starting middle school to starting high school and college -- almost the perfect demographic for your messages, right?
Eva: I think that’s exactly it, and that was the advantage of having this age range, and I think you saw a lot of the younger girls and older girls feel comfortable exchanging thoughts as it went on and topics came up. So yes, I think that starting with middle school age, and up to where they are heading off to college, was a good group. These are ages where girls are going to take on leadership roles in their lives. Plus, with the info that was shared...there’s never a time where it’s not useful. But the excitement level from that age group was really great for meshing as a group.
8. The pictures showed a huge crowd -- was that in one event or throughout?
Eva: People showed up in droves for all of it and that was a great inspiration that helped keep us all going. We all were there for each others’ speeches and the hall we had was so packed that we ended up standing on the sides! It was such an honor to hear their story. As great as Missy’s talk was, the Q & A after she hosted was even more incredible. When you have a normal setting like this, you don’t just talk about gold medals, you take about the experience, what you learned while getting there, and what you took from it afterward and how it shaped you moving forward. So instead of “What was your favorite medal” it was questions like “How did you deal with the changes in your life it brought” or “how did you handle the difficulties when things changed?” I think the questions showed how we were able to get through to them, and what good thinkers they were and how closely they were paying attention. In a setting like that, you have the opportunity to go a level deeper.
9. Is there ever such thing as a bad weekend when Elizabeth Beisel is in the house?
Eva: No way (laughs) -- never! Elizabeth Beisel is such an amazing role model and has been for me and so many others, from when she started breaking age-group records until now. Her story is so interesting because she literally went through every stage possible and had the Olympic experience not only three times but both as a young team member and then as a 24-year-old after college as an Olympic team captain. To have amassed so much experience so young and then triangulate that with her mentors and become this great leader is remarkable. The irony with Beisel is that as you get older you often are less involved for a variety of different reasons, but in her case she’s actually more involved than ever.
10. She’s also quite the musician like you, isn’t she?
Eva: She is -- just such a talent in so many ways. I love getting together with her just to talk classical music. I’ll go to her and ask her take on whatever I am working on or something that is coming up.
11. I saw her play violin with Bob Bowman on piano pre-Rio, have you played with her?
Eva: Absolutely. At 2014 Pan Pacs we actually played violin-piano sonatas where we’d switch off (with one playing piano and one violin). That is one of my favorite swimming memories. We were at Pan Pacs in Australia and we were playing in the hotel lobby. To me, chamber music and USA Swimming together (laughs) is one of the best things in life! Eventually we actually were kicked out -- politely -- because you weren’t allowed to play the piano there. But we have that great memory.
12. And didn’t you and Beisel swim in Austin during the summit?
Eva: We did and that was so much fun! We were trying to get our daily workout in, and there was this paddle board session so we thought, if we’re going to be there we might as well get our swim in. So for me it was a great open water workout and whenever you train with Beisel you are going to get a great workout. Training open water with Elizabeth though, I have to selfishly admit was a dream come true!
13. I have known Kara Lynn since before her first Olympics, when she first started at Georgia. She’s gone from this shy person to spokesperson who does modeling and is so confident -- what has the transition of her been like for you, as a friend, to watch?
Eva: When I was a young, very young 14 year-old at my first National Team Camp, Kara was one of the veterans on the trip training her behind off, yet she took the time to be extremely kind to all us younger ones and I knew then and there she was the absolute perfect role model because she was so sincere and genuine. She would always drift toward us younger swimmers, offering to help. So in my mind, from what I have experienced with her, she’s always been a leader. And so I think now to have her put on an event like this is a spectacular continuation of her journey. And to have it where it helps so many young women is so admirable. Plus she involved a bunch of her friends from swimming who she trusts. I don’t know that it gets any better than Kara Lynn. And LEAD is just such an extension of who she is.
14. I loved following you at Yale and talking to you during finals -- SORRY! -- each year. How glad are you that you decided to roll the dice and take on that kind of academic commitment to swim in college?
Eva: I could not be happier. That was the right decision for me. Plus, college is such a wonderful opportunity for growth as a person and thinker. It’s the first time you make friends as an adult. I am so grateful to this day for the team environment we had. You have a great balance in your life with academics and sports, and I personally believe it’s a great way to continue your development and get you ready for life after college.
15. What about the high rigor of the academics there -- that really is balance at its finest, isn’t it?
Eva: It’s interesting that people see it as a balance because maybe my take is a little bit different: I have always found that having something else or several other things that are important to you actually makes your swimming better. It allows you to make friends outside of swimming and shift your focus from the pool. Having worthy pursuits keeps you focused and fresh. There is always something to be excited about and challenged by, so I think it’s very constructive. For me, academics always added to my swimming, and made me a better athlete and teammate.
16. You mentioned from the LEAD summit the diversity -- how fun was it, how different each of you would answer the same question?
Eva: That was special because everyone relates in a different way based on who we are, our choices and our experiences. So it was insightful to hear the stories of hardship and failure, but so rewarding and worth it because the bounce-backs were the best stories ever. And people can relate to both sides. Failure isn’t the end of anything. It’s always a beginning. What it is the beginning of, and how you respond to it, is completely up to you.
17. I know this was a young woman’s conference but I can’t help but hear you speak about these things and I think of Fran Crippen -- is he part of your message or at least inspires part of it?
Eva: Always. One of the great things about the summit was the leadership focus and trying to make others better while making yourself better. That’s entirely what Fran was about. The focus has been on these incredible things he did for all of us -- me, Alex, all his teammates and those who followed him. But Fran along the way was always making himself better and never stopped becoming a better and more dominating swimmer. He was a good testament in that regard to leading by example. Frank would have loved our messages, and like always he would have been a crowd favorite because he’s so inspirational in how he carries himself. His messages to our open water teams when he was a captain were like motivational speeches that you never forget, and it’s one of the main reasons why USA Swimming was able to go from being an underdog in open water swimming to the amazing force it is today on the international stage. That leadership started with Fran and his amazing influence on all of us. So yes, to (laughs) finally answer your question, I was definitely inspired by Fran’s spirit when I was at the summit.
18. Speaking of inspiring, your close friend Ashley Twichell wins gold at Worlds after barely missing the Olympic team for open water, and then at Nationals has a top mile time untrained and unshaved for her -- what do you make of her?
Eva: So proud! Ashley Twichell is such an amazing person and teammate, and also a role model. She was coming back from shoulder surgery which is so tough but everything she did, she did with grace and kindness. She’s also one of the funniest and toughest women I know. She had success before (the injury) and she dealt with the disappointment and then crushed it to come back. I love being on teams with her because she brings such awesome leadership and such honesty about her experiences.
19. For the first time since you started, you aren’t on the National Team after having knee surgery, you’ve been able to secure several sponsorships, what are those and why are you working with them?
Eva: James Fike makes kickboards and being a very weak kicker, this has been very good for me -- they are great for drills, work on body position and kick. Me coming off knee surgery, this was something I needed whether I ended up endorsing them or not -- it just worked out perfectly that way. So I used them to get my kick back, and another thing it really helped with is body position development, not just in the 10k but for all races, especially pool events. James Fike also makes an awesome swim bag that I had also used before that kept my laptop dry at Yale.
I'm proud to represent UCAN because their product is aimed at healthy athletic performance, and healthy energy for daily activities. Their SuperStarch is a slow releasing carb that keeps blood sugar stable, which is crucial for training, and especially endurance racing. It's really helped me maintain my distance training and attack racing without the blood sugar crash that maybe you feel from other products. So I’m very grateful these companies are helping me work through this year and chase my dream of making the team in 2020!
20. You have always one of everybody’s favorite for your goodness and honesty -- many are happy to see you staying with it, how will it be different for you as a pro now?
Eva: Well, thank you first of all. I love competing at the highest level. We all hit our bumps. Coming back from surgery and figuring out what I would do post-college was a challenging time. I did the best I could to prepare for Nationals but I was not the best on that (10k) day, and I came back with a 5k so I was really happy to see those kind of results. I’m always ready to put it on the line again. That’s a big part of the experience. So I’ll be able to do more of the World Cups, summer racing, and do some traveling. I will continue to focus on open water but I think it’s so great they’ve added the 1500 for women (at the Olympics), so I might get in the pool for that at World Cups or meets like that. That’s the nice part for me now, without school I can choose select events and put all my focus on them, and see how I do. I’m very fortunate to continue swimming and be around my amazing USA Swimming teammates and coaches.