Sometimes, even when you're staring at the bottom of a pool, a change of scenery still makes waves. For Saunderstown-born Elizabeth Beisel, 18, a member of the US Women's Swimming and Diving Team, such change has meant an up-shift of gears.
Indeed Beisel, a 2010 graduate of North Kingston High School who is currently competing at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai through July 31, recently completed her first year of school as a Gator at the University of Florida, where the already-energetic Rhode Islander injected even more life into her swimming career.
"Working with a different group of people like I've had in the first year of college has refreshed the way I look at the sport," wrote Beisel via email as she traveled with the US team on her way to Shanghai. "And I'm starting to like [swimming] a lot more than I did a few years ago just because of the change."
Beisel, who will compete in the 200-meter backstroke and 400-meter individual medley events to be held Friday through Sunday in Shanghai, swims at Florida under the direction of coach Gregg Troy, who has won 26 national titles during his time in Gainesville and will coach the US Men's team at the London Olympics next August.
Troy, who has seen his fair-share of Gators-turned world-class swimmers—such as Beijing Olympic medalists Dara Torres and Ryan Lochte—can attest that Beisel's reformed passion has already shown itself in the practice pool. (Beisel also competed at the Beijing games in 2008, though after posting the best time in the 400 IM prelims did not medal in the final.)
"She has taken her enjoyment of the sport to a new level," wrote Troy via email. "The energy she brings to practice has created a very likable situation [and] the result has been a greater consistency in training."
Yet for Beisel, this weekend in Shanghai will be the test to see if practicing consistently translates to sustained top results in pool competition. In the buildup to FINA, for instance, the University of Florida hosted the Southeastern Conference Swimming and Diving Championships in late February, where Beisel won the two events she will swim in China—and notably set an SEC record in the 400-yard IM in the process.
However, in the NCAA Championship meet a month later in Minneapolis, the SEC Freshman of the Year and soon-to-be All-American placed second and third in her two trademark events, the 400IM and 200 back, respectively. Still—and especially for an athlete who trained through sectionals and has only recently begun her seasonal tapering—mental toughness may very well take the day this weekend.
“Coach Troy drills into our heads that we need to be confident when we swim, no matter what,” wrote Beisel. “All you can do is depend on your mental capacity and how confident you are and that's been a new mentality I've had in the last year that's helped me improve a lot, especially going from club swimming to college swimming.”
Added Troy, “[We have a] training environment with a large group of very experienced athletes who focus on competition at the highest level, [combined with the] ability for us to consistently train at a level that is very intense.”
Indeed, since Troy is the Olympic men’s coach—which requires additional focus on long-course training and competition—Gainesville is more than your typical college pool and attracts swimmers, like Beisel, with international goals on the mind. And yet as Troy emphasized, Florida even goes so far as to make it a priority, gaining ample support from both administration and staff, such as from associate head coaches Martyn Wilby (1982-1986 British National Team member) and Anthony Nesty, a UF alum who won the first-ever Olympic medal for his home country of Suriname in the 1988 Seoul Games—and a gold at that.
“This allows us the ability to work with the athletes in a variety of different styles,” wrote Troy. “Our athletes like Elizabeth who have the opportunity to do something special at the international level will have even more training and racing opportunities than usual.”
And so for Beisel, who noted that she still misses home, where “everyone knows everybody,” she’s at the same time gaining a new sense of place, and one on a global scale.
“It's going to be really exciting to see all of the other swimmers,” she wrote, “especially since the whole group didn't taper together. We're always going to be representing the
University of Florida as well as our nations and we're a really close-knit group. I can't wait to see how they swim at Worlds.”