Editor's Note: In 2008, Elizabeth Beisel was 15 years old and heading to her first Olympic Games in Beijing. She finished 4th and 5th in 400IM and 200 back. Four years and a lifetime of change later she swam those same two events, this time winning silver and bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.
In 2008, I was a high school swimmer at Bluefish Swim Club in a small town in Rhode Island, by 2012 I was an NCAA college swimmer at the University of Florida, one of the biggest universities and biggest athletic programs in the world. Initially, college swimming was never the real dream for me. My real dream was filled with sponsorships and commercials and world records. So far, that dream hasn’t even come close to coming true. Ironically, I have college swimming to thank for that. The honest truth is that I went into college swimming with the mindset that I would serve my four years and then step into the dream I have always imagined. Now, four years later, that mindset couldn’t be any more opposite. College swimming is the dream.
My club coach Chuck Batchelor urged me to become a college swimmer and I cannot thank him enough for steering me in that direction. I have become a part of a dynasty at the University of Florida. I train with people from around the world with Olympic gold medals and world records and NCAA championships every single day. I swim with a group of guys who are as protective of me as my father is and I swim with a group of girls who have become my sisters. I can guarantee no matter where you go in life, nothing will ever be as unique as college swimming. It creates a bond between people that will change your life forever.
Athletes have their own experiences at any collegiate program. Whether it ends with a transfer or a national championship, I can guarantee that at some point within those four years they learned lessons that will shape who they are for the rest of their lives.
NCAA college swimming is one of the most unique experiences a swimmer will ever have. I went from hating the idea of duel meets every weekend to loving them in a matter of no time. I had never been a part of a true team before I entered college swimming, so I never really understood what all the hype was about until I experienced it for myself.
You will never find yourself in a setting like college swimming once it is over. People who are all working towards the same thing for hours upon hours each day become not only your teammates but your family as well. There is nothing else in the world like it. The friendships you form in a college swimming program cannot be duplicated in any other setting. You learn so much about who you are and what you like and dislike all within the fastest four years of your life. I am a completely different person now than when I was a freshman and I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for college swimming.
College swimming has taught me to put something bigger than myself first. A college team is only as strong as its weakest link, and that forces the entire team to be accountable for each other’s actions and decisions. When a college team is all on the same page moving towards the same goal, they are unstoppable. To be a part of something like that for four years teaches you lessons you don’t typically learn as a professional athlete. You learn things like controlling your patience, time management, self-control, respect, and most importantly teamwork. You become so invested in the program that by your senior year your passion and loyalty towards the University is something you can never lose.
The amount of pride I have developed for the University of Florida is exponential. This past year was my senior year and I have tried to take in as much as I can. I have cherished each duel meet like it was my last meet as a Gator. I have tried to make as many memories as possible before it was too late to make any at all. I feel like I am hanging on to college swimming with a thread and I find myself refusing to accept that I only have one more meet left in my college career.
That emotion happens for a reason. My coach at Florida, Gregg Troy, is a legend. He comes to practice with that type of emotion every single day and forces us to push limits that we think are unreachable. I swim to not only represent the University of Florida, but also Coach Troy. He has taught every single swimmer that goes through his program at least one lesson that they will take with them for the rest of their lives. He shapes us into the people we are today, and I could not be more grateful for that. He has taught me that wearing a Florida Gator cap in a duel meet is just as humbling as wearing a USA cap in the Olympics. Each are special in their own ways, but if you had me choose which one I would rather wear, I would not be able to choose.