By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, October 18, 2019
Bethany Galat went to 2016 Olympic Trials not expecting a lot.
Despite it being her second Trials (her first was in 2012 where she had just barely made the cuts and was extremely nervous), in many ways she was just getting her feet wet nationally and internationally in the pool.
So, when she finished third in two events and just missed making the Rio Olympic team, she said she left Omaha more optimistic than disappointed.
Sometimes that’s the difference between being a veteran with high expectations and a young swimmer largely excited just to be competing.
“Trials in 2016 was my breakout meet, and because of that, I didn’t come out of my races nearly as disappointed as other third-place finishers,” said the recent graduate of Texas A&M.
“Since Trials, my confidence in my potential has grown each year, and my goal going into 2020 is to match that mentality going into my races, along with not putting limits on what I believe I can do, and what others can as well. Both of my Trials were big learning experiences for me.”
Likewise, the past 15-plus months as a professional swimmer have proven to be full of tremendous learning experiences in and out of the pool for Galat.
Her adventure started when she finished among the top 2 at 2018 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships to earn a spot on that summer’s Pan Pacific Championship team. This came a year after she competed in her first FINA World Championships and left Budapest, Hungary, with a silver medal in the 200 breaststroke.
At Pan Pacs, she added nearly 3 seconds to her best time and missed swimming in the A final.
Subsequently, because Lilly King swam a faster time in the 200 breast there, despite her second-place finish at Phillips 66 Nationals, King was named to the 2019 World Championships team while Galat earned a spot on the 2019 Pan American Games team.
Still, Galat said she was excited to compete at Pan Ams and came out of the meet not only with a gold medal but also some of her favorite memories of international competitions.
“Having (Texas A&M Coach) Steve (Bultman) as one of the head coaches for Team USA was a huge advantage, along with having a number of A&M teammates representing the U.S., Mexican and Peruvian teams,” she said. “It was a blast living in a village with seven of my USA teammates in one apartment and eating in the giant dining hall with thousands of other athletes.”
Galat went on to add that Pan Ams was an important meet for her mentally.
She was only entered in the 200 breast, and she was coming from her career high point with a silver medal at 2017 Worlds.
She said her preliminary swim at Pan Ams felt stiff and painful, and she felt a tremendous amount of nerves which led to a 6 second add in the morning.
Bultman reassured her of her potential and past successes for the evening final, and her parents encouraged and reminded her of the reasons why she is in the sport.
“I came into my race at finals focused and determined and finished within 0.1 of my best time,” she said. “After the meet, I got to go to Cusco and Machu Picchu with my parents, which was incredible! Peruvian food was also very good.
“Being a part of Team USA makes me proud and really grateful to be American. There’s nothing like the pressure of wearing your country’s flag on your cap and being surrounded by incredible teammates and staff and do normal daily things together. Representing USA gives me another reason to train hard and build confidence in how I hold myself.”
Even though she finished her collegiate eligibility at A&M in 2018, Galat continues to live and train with her college coach and teammates as a post-graduate swimmer in College Station.
She’s also a member of the new International Swim League with the DC Trident – citing it as one of the best decisions she’s made.
Missing the environment of being part of a team since graduating, she said she loves the team atmosphere. And not having the responsibility of classes and school work allows her time to focus on recovery, meet travel and getting adequate sleep.
“With less on my mind, I’m able to engage more in my training and my relationships,” she said. “ISL has been an absolute blast. I wouldn’t want to represent any other team than DC Trident and Kaitlin Sandeno. The team culture clicked so quickly and our values and energy were contagious for the short time we were together.
“We’re all so proud to wear red and white. I now have another reason to train hard until our next meet in November, and I couldn’t ask for more. DC Trident and ISL perfectly embody what swimming is all about: swimming for your team more so than yourself, cheering for your teammates, racing in a high energy meet and enjoying life outside the pool.”
Galat said all of this recent (and ongoing) exposure to international meets and competition continues to fuel her fire and love for swimming.
It’s one of the reasons she’s most looking forward to returning to Omaha next summer for her second Olympic Trials – and she’s more than ready to prove she belongs among the best in the United States and world.
She’d love to step onto that Olympic podium in Tokyo just as she did two years ago at World Championships in Hungary – but she knows the first step is to swim her way through her U.S. competitors, who are also among the best in the world.
“The tougher the competition the more everyone will benefit,” she said of Trials. “I feel lucky to be a part of a group of breaststrokers in the United States who I all know put in hard, tough work – which motivates all of us to train and race harder. Nothing gets my adrenaline pumping going into a race knowing anyone has a shot to get their hand on the wall first!
“I’ve learned it’s best for me to understand and fully back my ‘why.’ I’ve learned the more focus I have on myself and what makes me feel good is never as satisfying as putting other people’s needs first - no matter the sacrifice (time, effort, money, etc.). I’ve learned the importance of making goals – both short- and long term – and finding people to believe in you and love you regardless of what you do.”
As of now, Galat said she plans to continue swimming through next summer – and if she makes the 2020 Olympic team and is inspired to keep going, she will decide what she wants to do next.
“I think it’s wise to hold off on making a decision when my emotions are high,” she said. “With the ISL moving swimming forward, it makes continuing to swim easier and I would really love to compete at more ISL meets, but there’s still unanswered questions. I studied food science and technology (at A&M) and my hopes are to go into the retail industry after I retire from swimming.
“I love the sport. It’s an avenue to better your habits, overall well-being and builds life-long relationships. I love how technical swimming is and the challenge to improve small details. I’m very competitive so I’m motivated by my teammates and competitors, and I’m also motivated by the discipline of bettering myself in many different ways.”