By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, November 17, 2017
Bridgette Alexander shares more similarities with her swimming idol Natalie Coughlin than she might realize.
They both swim the backstroke – albeit Coughlin excelled in the 100 and Alexander’s forte is the 200 – and coincidentally, they both enjoy cooking to the point they share recipes and finished products with family and friends whenever possible.
In many ways, Coughlin was the inspiration for Alexander believing she could one day be an Olympian – and after the summer she enjoyed in the pool, she feels close to having something else in common with Coughlin.
“I think any kid growing up in their sport has dreams of being an Olympian, myself included,” she said. “I remember watching the Olympics, specifically Natalie Coughlin in the backstroke events with my dad saying I wanted to be like her.
“I think the first time I realized I had a real chance was when I competed in that final heat of the 200 back at Olympic Trials. It made me realize that my childhood dream of competing for Team USA was actually in reach and that if I put in the work, I could get there. It really just gave me more confidence in my own abilities to work even harder to try to accomplish all of my goals.”
Alexander, who hails from Wisconsin but is in her first year of graduate school (she finished her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology and Health Promotion in three years this past spring) and competes for the University of Kentucky, got her start in the water when she was 5.
With her older brother Bobby swimming at the local pool, she wanted to do the same thing he did and also jumped in the first chance she got.
“Of course, I love my older brother and wanted to do everything he did, so I begged my mom to put me in, too,” she said. “It wasn’t until recently they told me they purposely held me back so I wouldn’t pass him in the ‘higher levels.’ That was pretty funny to me. I started competitively swimming at 7 years old and just fell in love with the whole thing.”
And even though she competed in a wide range of sports as a kid, there was always something special to her about being in the water.
It was swimming that kept her grounded – where she found balance and solace and felt as one with the universe no matter what the world was handing her on any particular day.
“Being in the water gave me a sense of control and a way to block everything else out in the world,” said Alexander, who played softball, basketball, golf, gymnastics, soccer and swimming before choosing to focus on swimming in seventh grade.
“I remember looking forward to just putting my head down and working hard after a long day of school, especially in high school. In swimming, you control how you perform, and I liked that aspect of this sport in comparison to the team sports like volleyball or basketball. To this day, I use swimming as an outlet for my daily stresses, but I think it has grown to where I just like to see how far I can push myself mentally and physically.”
Where Alexander has pushed herself most recently is onto the U.S. National Team and her first senior international team this past summer at World University Games.
She said it has been a dream to be on the National Team her whole swimming career, and to finally be a part of such a “great team” is hard for her to put into words – but the experience has been humbling and she’s honored to be chosen.
As far as WUGs are concerned, she said she had a great time in Taiwan and earned her first international medal – a bronze in the 200 backstroke.
All in all, it was a great learning experience that she knows she’ll carry with her forward into this year’s collegiate swim season – her final season – as well as future national and international competitions.
“I compare swimming for Team USA a lot to swimming for a collegiate team, where your own personal time doesn’t really matter, but where you place and how you impact your team matters a lot,” she said.
“I learned that fun swimming is fast swimming and to enjoy and take in every second of your experiences. I met so many awesome people, coaches and swimmers, and I hope to learn even more from them in the future.”
Alexander said she attributes her burgeoning success in the pool to the experiences and competitions she’s had over the past couple of seasons, essentially starting with last summer’s Olympic Trials.
She said each time she takes the water she gains more confidence, and the cumulative impact of these meets – and knowing she can compete with the world’s best -- is helping her get closer and closer to her ultimate goal in 2020.
“Knowing that I can compete with some of the best in the world really set me up well mentally for my last collegiate season,” said Alexander, who finished 8th in the 200 back at Trials but improved to fourth-place in the event at 2017 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships. She also finished 7th in the 100 back.
“Motivation to swim fast has always come pretty naturally to me. I consider myself a very intrinsically motivated person. I love racing and I always strive to be the hardest worker in and out of the pool so I know with confidence that I had done everything in my power at the end of the season. Knowing that you have done everything you can to prepare for a race is key.”
Having finished her bachelor’s degree earlier this spring and now working toward her masters’ degree in sports leadership, Alexander said she’s looking forward to her post-swimming career in coaching, preferably for a collegiate program.
But for now, she’s focused on making sure she’s in the best possible position to contend for a spot on the next U.S. Olympic team.
“My future ambition outside of my own swimming career is to be a head coach,” she said. “I think being a swimmer for a division one school, under a head coach like Lars (Jorgensen), I have a pretty good opportunity to learn and get into the collegiate swimming world.”