By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, August 30, 2019
A few years ago while still swimming at the University of Georgia, Melanie Margalis imagined a future of solitude and loneliness as a professional swimmer.
Without the support and camaraderie of her college teammates, she figured the nomadic life as a professional – traveling from meet to meet, country to country, to swim and make a living – would consist of long flights by herself and dinners alone at the hotel.
No one in your corner rooting for you. No one to lean on during the bad times or celebrate with during the good times.
She’s happy to report she couldn’t have been more wrong.
“What’s been most surprising to me about being a professional swimmer is that I never realized I would end up caring as much about how my USA teammates perform just as much as I cared about my Georgia teammates performing,” she said.
“In my head, being a professional swimmer seemed like it would be a lonely job, but thankfully, I’ve found it to be the opposite.”
And Margalis, one of the most versatile swimmers on the U.S. National Team, has made the most of her professional time since she graduated from Georgia five years ago.
She’s steadily if not quietly won medals at the Olympics, short and long course World Championships, Pan Pacific Championships, World University Games and Phillips 66 USA Swimming Championships.
She’s been a member of the past three FINA World Championship teams, the past two Pan Pac teams and, of course, the 2016 Olympic team.
Suffice it to say the new aunt of twin boys doesn’t have to look far or deep for motivation to continue to train and compete for more teams and medals – but neither of those is what truly pushes her to want more.
For Margalis, it’s more about nurturing and creating new relationships than winning titles and medals, although she likes those, too.
“What motivates me in the pool is wanting to keep making U.S. National teams so I can go and hang out with all my National Team friends at meets,” said Margalis, whose brother, Robert, welcomed twin sons, Henry and John, to the family this year. “Outside of the pool, my family and friends really motivate me to keep pushing because I really feel they believe in me so much.
“I’m so thankful to have been able to race at Pan Pacs and at Worlds and gain more experience going into the 2020 season. Racing at all these meets makes me feel more confident that I can handle having pressure put on me.”
Something else that has made Margalis’ professional swimming journey enjoyable and challenging is that she’s been able to add new events to her already lengthy repertoire.
In addition to swimming the 200m IM and the 800m free relay, she also swam the 400m IM at last year’s Pan Pacific Championships and on the prelims of the 400m medley relay at this summer’s FINA World Championships.
“Being on the 400 medley relay was such a shock to me, and I’m so thankful to have had that opportunity (at this year’s Worlds),” she said. “I couldn’t believe that the coaches trusted me to be on the prelims relay and getting the chance to do it made Worlds even more fun.”
While she plans to focus on “the little things” over the next 9-plus months leading up to 2020 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Margalis said she would love to add an individual medal to the 800 free relay gold medal she won in Rio three years ago.
But first, she knows she has to swim her best to make next year’s team – and to swim at a second Olympics would be a dream come true.
“Everything that has happened in my career since 2014 has already been more than I could have ever imagined,” she said. “It’s been three years since Rio and sometimes I still feel like I just dreamed up having swam in the Olympics!
“All I know is that if I make a second Olympic team, I don’t want to take even a second of it for granted and just want to be fully present for the whole experience with my teammates.”
And while she knows you can never take anything for granted or even fully predict what will happen at a high-intensity meet like Trials, she knows it’s going to be fast and there will always be up-and-coming swimmers who find that extra gear to make things interesting and competitive.
That’s what makes Trials fun and challenging in her eyes.
“I think Alex Walsh is really going to be a force in the next few years, and I’m excited to see what she can do at Trials,” Margalis said. “My dad was telling me about a young girl at Junior Worlds who comes back in her final 50 of the 200 IM about a second faster than I ever have! She’ll be a fun one to watch.
“There are five people off the top of my head who have a very strong chance of making the team in the 200 IM with only two spots available. The young talent in the US excites me and motivates me to keep pushing forward.”
Still young at 28 in December, Margalis is “getting up there” in swimming years but said she doesn’t see an end date for her career any time soon.
Because she still loves the sport – and her teammates – as much as ever, Margalis said she wants to keep swimming and competing as long as possible… and definitely as long as it’s still fun and challenging.
After that, she’s not quite sure what she’ll do with her life.
In her estimation, the possibilities are limitless: coaching, personal training, working in quality control for a sports apparel brand, being a buyer for a store or even working in retail where she could use her degree in fashion merchandising.
“At this point in my career, I won’t continue to swim if at some point I’m no longer happy doing it,” she said. “I think I will just continue to take my career year by year as I have since 2016. That being said, I do think it would be really cool to compete at Pan Ams, and those don’t come around again till 2023 but I would be surprised if I was still swimming in 2024.
“I just know that for me being a professional swimmer is now or never so I don't want to cut my career short. I don’t think any other job that I would have is one that I could only do at this stage in my life.”