By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, January 4, 2018
Even though she didn’t swim as well as she wanted and missed earning a medal, this year’s FINA World Championships proved to be one of the most satisfying and memorable meets of Elizabeth Beisel’s storied swimming career.
Named a team captain, she competed in Budapest with a clean conscience and a light heart – knowing it would be the final swim meet of her career.
Although she has yet to formally retire, Beisel said she is “nearing” the time to make that decision – and she’s content and ready to make the transition to the next phase of her life.
But first, she plans to take some time to herself, do some traveling, conduct a few swim clinics, do some public speaking, etc. – and relax and reflect upon all that she gave to swimming and all it has given to her.
“I am looking forward to saying yes to everything, because when you’re swimming and training competitively, you can’t say yes to very much,” said Beisel, who competed in her first Olympic Trials at 12 and made her first National Team at 13.
“I plan to be a free spirit – a gypsy – for a while, travel to Guatemala and take some other big trips and just take time for me. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Beisel got a head start on her travels a few weeks ago when she joined several former collegiate teammates and competitors, U.S. teammates and swim friends for a few days of snowboarding and skiing in Breckenridge, Colo.
Over her many years of competing, Beisel, one of the most beloved U.S. swimmers for her infectious humor and personality, has made hundreds of friends throughout the world due to the sport.
She said when she does make her retirement official, it will be those relationships – seeing friends regularly at meets – that she will cherish and miss the most.
Suffice it to say, impromptu weekends like the one in Breckenridge will most likely become more common – and definitely as much fun.
“It’s been a great adventure, one that will always be very important to me,” Beisel said of her career that included three Olympics and six World Championships – along with five medals (1 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze).
“I’ve been doing this for such a long time at such a high level that as a swimmer always preparing for the next meet, I’ve had little time to reflect and be proud of myself. I’m looking forward to that.”
To some degree – knowing 2017 Worlds would be her final meet – Beisel said she had the opportunity to start that reflective journey prior to and during the meet.
A big part of it involved remembering all of the teammates she had come to know along the way and how much they impacted her life in various ways.
That took her back to her first World Championships in 2007 before her 15th birthday and how much she has changed since then.
“It was so cool to remember how young and naïve I was at that Worlds in Melbourne – and how far I’ve come from that time, especially last summer in Budapest,” she said. “Being in the role of mentor, someone the younger swimmers looked up to, was an amazing experience and honor for me.
“It meant as much as any medal I ever won because I was able to positively impact someone’s life. It has great meaning in so many ways.”
Beisel said she came close to calling it a career following the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she missed the medals podium after winning two medals (silver and bronze) four years earlier in London.
Knowing that she had been in the hospital with an illness just weeks before Olympic Trials and then fractured her pinky finger during Trials, she knew she wasn’t at her best during the meet.
She said she knew she couldn’t leave the sport under those circumstances.
“I knew I could swim better than I did in Rio, so I came back for another year to prove it to myself,” she said. “Before my final swim, I took a few minutes to look around and just absorb everything. That’s something I was never able to do before because I was always so focused on the meet and the next swim. But I felt no pressure, and I had the most fun.
“I didn’t medal in Budapest, but I did make the final (400 individual medley), so I feel I did accomplish what I wanted. I left with absolutely no regrets.”
As she embarks upon this next stage of her life – she plans to stay in her hometown of Saunderstown, R.I., with her parents for the time being – Beisel said she intends to attack it with the same vigor and passion she always did with swimming.
She said she learned something valuable with every practice and every meet that she knows she will use wherever life takes her moving forward.
“I learned a lot from watching the older swimmers and how they dealt with the pressure of competing at this level, and I used it to my advantage as I matured in the sport,” said Beisel, who started competitive swimming at 5 years old and may consider a future in coaching after doing so many clinics over the past few years.
“The time management that I learned as a competitive swimmer will always stay with me. Being an athlete and balancing that with school and a social life taught me a lot that I know I will use in the future whatever I decide to do.”