By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, April 30, 2020
If you’ve been watching swimming over the past year or so, you know that Annie Lazor has been dominant in the pool.
In fact, at the past two TYR Pro Swim Series events – Knoxville and then Des Moines – she won the 200 breaststroke and put up some of the fastest times in the world at that point. This came on the heels of her winning both the 100 and 200 breast events last summer at the Pan American Games.
And then COVID-19 happened. For Lazor, it all became real when her pool was closed, and she and her fellow professionals were denied special permission to continue to train there.
“We started driving an hour and 45 minutes to the nearest pool daily, and everything became very real for me the first day we arrived at that pool,” she said. “I remember having a moment of weakness talking to Cody (Miller) when we arrived and realizing it was our new ‘normal’ for the time being.
“He assured me that we would acclimate. We were doing everything we could while the Olympic Games were still scheduled as planned, and the level of commitment we showed by doing that drive every day was unmatched.”
When it was announced a few weeks later that the Olympics – and subsequently U.S. Olympic Trials – would be postponed until 2021, Lazor said she initially found it difficult not to feel robbed in some way.
But after giving it some thought and reflection, she realized if she was swimming this fast now, why couldn’t she be swimming as fast or even faster next year?
“It felt as if before this, everything was leading up to a great summer I was sure to have,” she said. “I feel like it doesn’t feel as heartbreaking to me because I am the one going through it, and I’m surrounded by other pros that are going through the same thing. I know this next year to improve and continue my upwards trajectory will be great for me.
“I was as confident as I could be. Just six days before our pool was shut down, I swam two best in-season times in Des Moines. I was ready to go, and was eager for summer to begin.”
In order to get to her current spot as one of the fastest breaststrokers in the world, Lazor said she has spent the past few years since she missed making the 2016 Olympic Team putting a lot more emphasis on land training.
She said she believes having a strong core and endurance can always translate to the pool.
She has also made a commitment to improving her nutrition. She knows that whether or not she’s in the pool, she can always control how she fuels her body.
“That focus will undoubtedly help me no matter my training circumstances,” said Lazor, who left swimming after 2016 Trials and worked a job in sports public relations before deciding to resume training the following summer. “I’m so lucky to be surrounded with like-minded people who help keep me motivated and accountable during this difficult and unknown time.
“I came out of retirement and back to the sport wanting to give everything I had to it, and without fear of any regrets later in life. I would never want to look back on this uncertain time during my career without being certain I gave this sport everything I had.”
For the past several weeks since Indiana issued stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lazor and a teammate have been enjoying home-based training and exercise in Bloomington.
And while they haven’t been able to train in their team pool, she said she has been getting into some more CrossFit type of training – stuff that she can do with minimal equipment.
She’s also just started swimming in a pond in Bloomington, but the water temperature is about 55 degrees, so she’s been thankful to receive wetsuits to swim in.
“I’ve been doing all right, making due with whatever we have,” she said. “I was able to both drive home and see my family for a little while, and I have one of my roommates that has stayed in Bloomington throughout the pandemic as well.
“It’s been really nice to have her as a friend and company throughout this. The relief that came with the postponement came at a good time. We were kicked out of our ‘last resort’ pool the same day. It was nice to take time and recharge after hearing the news, although after a few days it seemed like a break I didn’t ask for and was wanting to do everything I could to stay in shape.”
While staying at home has proven challenging for someone with lots of energy like Lazor, she said the time away from training and Trials prep has given her an overwhelming sense of gratitude and confidence.
She’s found a newfound appreciation for the 5:45 a.m. practices, the grind and, of course, the health of herself, her family and her friends.
“My confidence and positive self-talk throughout this time has been challenging, but I know I am still the same athlete I was prior to the pandemic,” she said. “I have continued to remind myself of that when I feel frustrated or think about the year that could have been.
“I’ve talked to a few people from other parts of the world, and it seems like it (this experience) has helped people be thankful for the daily, mundane activities, as well as the relationships we have with friends and family to help us get through these difficult times.”
Now, with restrictions across the world (and United States) slowly being lifted with the intent of returning to some degree of “new normal,” Lazor said when she gets the green light, she wants to go full-steam ahead (with necessary precautions) with 2021 Olympic Trials at the forefront of her mind and dreams.
She added that she knows she will need to be patient with herself and be mindful of keeping her mental health in check during the “rebuilding process.”
“While these meets are part of the journey, I’ve never been one-track minded toward Trials or the Olympics. I’ve always just wanted to work hard and see how far I can go in the sport,” she said. “Thankfully, I think my mindset of maintaining a tough work ethic, and not setting limits on what I can accomplish in the sport has helped not put the overbearing pressure of the title ‘Olympian’ on me.
“I am the same swimmer now that I was a month ago when I believed I was ready to make the team; and I have the same mindset and work ethic in place in order to get myself there. I felt what I was doing prior to the pandemic was working, and with that also comes the feeling of disappointment having to wait another year; I felt as if it was finally ‘my time.’ But who is to say I won’t be even better with another year to prepare under my belt?”