Olivia Smoliga was a finalist in the 100 back at the 2016 Olympics and a gold and bronze medalist in the 50 and 100 back, respectively, at last year’s World Championships.
As part of a group of professional swimmers coached by Jack Bauerle at the University of Georgia, Smoliga had the following to say about keeping her focus while staying at her parents’ home in Illinois, some 800 miles from her training base.
How was it right after the shutdown?
On a Monday morning, I was on the pool deck when I asked Jack if he thought the Olympics would be postponed. Georgia had pools open longer than most other states. He said, “Yes, definitely.” It was a weird feeling jumping in the pool, training with no real goal in mind. The pools closed a short time later.
Swimmers are stubborn. We need to touch the water, or we lose our feel. We need our base. We can be very selfish about this. But this situation is bigger. We need protection from ourselves. Once you realize that, it’s easier to take a step back. Then I got in my car and drove 12 hours from Georgia to Chicago – actually Glenview (15 miles northwest of Chicago)– where my parents are. There’s a gym downstairs where I have been working out.
What have you been doing?
Bench, squat rack, weights, pull-up bar, slide handles and walks and runs. I’m trying to maintain flexibility, shoulder mobility, core strength and a basic aerobic level. We have Zoom calls every Monday with the rest of the Georgia post-grad group. But I love being in the water. Just taking a bath is very calming to me, a mental reprieve. I don’t have a bath in my apartment in Georgia, but I do here.
I’d like to tell you it’s important to work hard, be intense and don’t lose sight of your goals. I’m like that in-season. But this is unlike anything we have seen before. You have to take a step back and reflect. When is a mental break like this going to happen again? Now is the time to pump the brakes a little bit and take a breather.
But at the same time, you have to be worried.
In the beginning, it was a lot of worry about when we are going to get pool space and are we going to lose the base we worked so hard for. Though I work to see the positive, it is an unsettling time. Not being in the water is very hard. At the professional level, we know what we have to lose.
But now I look on it as a blessing in disguise. You don’t often get to rest like this. And, it’s a chance to connect with your family for an extended period. It’s an important time for reflection, time to get stronger in things you are weak in. You have to talk nice to yourself. Say kind things to yourself. Talking negative just puts you in a bigger hole.
What have you learned?
You have to go with the flow as much as possible. Getting anxious doesn’t help. Focus on what you can control. It really helps to know my peers are in the same boat. Some are getting in backyard pools or swimming in the ocean, but is it real practice? Does it have the same scrutiny? The same intensity?
Speaking of getting back into the water, how do you think that will go?
On a scale of one to 10, I hope to be a seven or an eight. Still, it’s going to hurt, but I will be probably better than ever. I will be so motivated.