By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, June 28, 2019
Ella Eastin is heading to World University Games next week hoping that the swimming gods take pity on her.
Suffice it to say, at big meets the past couple of years, she has been a bit “snake bitten” just when it looked and felt like she was ready to break through.
At 2017 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships – the qualifying meet for 2017 World Championships – she finished second in her signature 400 individual medley event only to be disqualified because of the “Lochte Rule.” She also came just short of making the World team with a third-place finish in the 200 IM but did earn a spot on that summer’s WUGs team.
Then, weeks before Phillips 66 Nationals last summer, Eastin was diagnosed with mononucleosis and missed pivotal weeks of training. Even though she was far from full strength, she finished third in the 200 IM and qualified for the Pan Pacific Championship team (finishing fourth) and upcoming WUGs in Italy.
After experiencing so much ill-timed bad luck, she feels it’s her time to shine on the big stage – this summer as well as next year in Omaha.
“It definitely feels like it’s my turn to experience something positive at a big meet – why not at WUGs?” said Eastin, who graduated from Stanford two weekends ago with her degree in human biology and plans to become a nurse at the end of her swimming career.
“These negative experiences have helped shape me into the swimmer and person I am today, but both times it was very disheartening and disappointing. They taught me that you can’t control everything that happens to you, but I was able to get through them and they toughened me up.”
Next week’s meet in Naples, Italy, will be Eastin’s second World University Games following her gold medal win in the 200 butterfly and silver medal in the 200 IM at 2017 WUGs in Taiwan.
Eastin – who completed her NCAA career this spring with a fourth-consecutive win in the 400-yard IM – sees this year’s WUGs as an opportunity to get in some real-time meet experience prior to next year’s Olympic Trials.
Over and above all of that, it’s an opportunity for her to gain more positive big-meet experience and assess what she still needs to tweak and improve within the next 10 months.
It was also a positive experience for her to “be tested by challenges” and gain maturity that she didn’t previously have – ultimately making her a more well-rounded competitor and more appreciative of all that swimming has done for and given her.
“(2016) Trials were a great experience for me because even though I didn’t really expect to make the team, I really wanted to make the team, so that disappointment of coming close (5th in the 400 IM) turned out to be good for me,” she said. “What I discovered is that while I may have been ready physically – swimming-wise – to make the team, I wasn’t emotionally ready to compete at that level.
“I think my biggest disappointment was that I honestly felt like I let everyone around me – everyone who supports me – as well as my younger self down by not making the team. But a little time and perspective taught me that my best swimming was still ahead, as was continued growth in maturity and appreciation for what I have. I learned a lot by watching Maya (DiRado) in that 200 IM final, and I’m looking forward to a different outcome in 2020.”
And while Eastin admits she’s experienced her fair share of challenges and disappointments in the pool over the past couple of years, everything associated with them has definitely given her more reason to enjoy the moment, roll with unexpected disappointments and absolutely acknowledge that swimming – and life – are a journey worth taking.
It’s all because she still loves swimming and knows she has more she wants to accomplish in the water.
She’s also ready for the next phase of her Trials life, having gone from young, wide-eyed spectator in 2008 to overwhelmed performer in 2012 to strong competitor in 2016 to Olympic contender in 2020.
“I love the sport no matter what happens in the pool, and that’s been a valuable lesson and realization for me,” said Eastin, who hasn’t put a timetable on how much longer she wants to swim competitively no matter what happens next year at Trials. “There were times in 2017 and 2018 when I questioned if I wanted to keep swimming. Competing at this level isn’t for the faint-hearted. It really makes you own what you really want and how much you want it, and then it challenges you to go get it.
“I know I’ve been ready to win at past meets, but circumstances largely beyond my control changed that. All you can do is put in the work, be prepared to compete and hope that the day ends in your favor. I’m ready for some of that in my swimming – and I’m ready to not disappoint that little girl inside me who loves to swim, enjoy the process, and not take it for granted.”
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