Eleanor Phillips will be like millions of other sports fans later this month, rooting for United States athletes competing in London’s Summer Olympics. For Phillips, in particular, that will mean cheering for the swimmers.
“I’ve looked up to Kathleen Hersey and a lot of the Olympic swimmers,” said Phillips when mentioning the 22-year-old American who, along with Cammile Adams, will vie in the 200-meter butterfly event July 31 (prelims/semifinals) and, hopefully, the Aug. 1 final at the London Aquatic Centre.
“I’ll definitely be watching,” Phillips said. “I’m really invested in it, especially now.”
The 19-year-old junior student-athlete at the University of San Diego, is very familiar with the Olympians who will compete there. She’ll root for them from her family’s Nashville home, though, instead of being among the swimmers in London. For now, at least, that’s OK.
Last month in Omaha, Phillips competed in the 200 butterfly at her first-ever U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials meet. She was one of 130 swimmers vying in the event’s 14 preliminary heats. Phillips swam the long-course distance in a time of 2 minutes, 22.16 seconds. It wasn’t enough for her to advance to the next qualifying round, thus ending her 2012 Olympics aspirations after a year of intense training and preparation.
“It’s a difficult meet, another level of competition,” explained Mike Keeler, USD women’s swim and diving coach, who was among the 9,000 fans in attendance at the June 28 race. “It was a good experience for her. She’s very good at accepting responsibility and I know she’ll find positives to take from it.”
Phillips, who swam as a member of her hometown Nashville Aquatics Club team, wasn’t pleased with her swim — some pre-race nervousness nearly caused her to false start — but she still did soak up the atmosphere.
“That was the biggest crowd for swimming I’ve ever competed in front of, but it was really cool to have so many people cheering,” she recalled. “One little boy even asked me to sign an autograph on his swim kickboard.”
Phillips, the first swimmer in the Toreros’ program to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials since Keeler arrived in 1998, certainly deserved her shot.
She earned her Olympic Trials entry with a time of 2:15.2 — more than a second faster than the trials’ qualifying mark of 2:16.49 — representing her club team at last August’s Junior Nationals meet in Palo Alto, Calif.
“Qualifying for the trials was an awesome feeling,” Phillips said. “Usually, right after I swim, it hurts. But, on this day, when I found out I qualified to go to Omaha, I felt really good.”
Qualifying was a big step and it added significantly to Phillips’ daily schedule. She balanced Olympic Trials training with her commitment to USD’s swim team practices and meets, academics as a double major in Spanish and Environmental Studies, as a member of the USD Honors Program and community service through USD’s American Indian Recruitment (AIR) program chapter as a mentor for Native American high school students.
“She’s been very self-sufficient and really took ownership of her training, both in and outside of the pool,” Keeler said.
Phillips’ day began at 4:30 a.m. when she’d drive to La Jolla for a daily workout in a pool designed for long-course distance (meters), unlike USD’s on-campus pool, which is set up for short-course distance (yards).
She attended a 10-day endurance camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The experience gave her a taste of the Olympics lifestyle. She lived in a dorm room, had two practices per day, had access to gyms, nutritious food and she trained alongside other Olympic hopefuls.
“The training center was a great, inspiring place to be,” she recalled. “I met and trained with other top U.S. swimmers. We also met the Israeli team.”
Phillips’ experiences this past year enhanced her talents in the pool and she thanked her coaches, teammates at USD and Nashville club for their support. Phillips also leads a balanced life with many non-pool activities such as playing piano and ukulele, knitting, reading, interest in sustainability and organic foods, and is devoted to yoga to maintain flexibility, relieve stress and lessen fatigue.
While her Olympic Trials outcome wasn’t as she hoped, Phillips still took it in stride. Her approach to her feat did earn her a new role. Keeler said Phillips, who turns 20 in October, will be a Toreros swim captain, certainly a role model for a whopping 16 incoming USD freshmen — 13 swimmers, three divers — this season.
“This helps raise the level of our program, provides another goal for our athletes and inspires them to go for their goals at USD,” Keeler said.
— Ryan T. Blystone
A new USD Changemakers television commercial debuts July 24 on www.sandiego.edu and will be shown in eight U.S. cities — San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, Chicago and Minneapolis — during NBC’s Summer Olympics coverage, beginning July 27.
Photos courtesy of scottphoto.net