"I Refuse to Get Out-Touched Again"

from Julia Wilkinson's blog at Team-Aquatic.com

 [Note from TAS: We're excited to have Julia Wilkinson joining us a regular blogger. She's going to give us a swimmer's view of the world we're all submerged in and we couldn't think of a better person to join our team. Look forward to more great stuff from her as she gives us tips, info and lets us follow along from meet to meet!]

People always ask me what I think about while I am swimming. During those long sets, staring down at the bottom of the pool–or, in my case, up at the ceiling–there are lots of things that go through my mind. Song lyrics. Clips from my favourite movies. Lists of what I need to buy at the grocery store. I promise that none of these monotonous thoughts will make it up onto this blog, but what will, are my thoughts about the sport and what it is like to be an athlete. I am so excited to be given the opportunity to write this blog because it combines my two passions: swimming (which you probably already knew) and writing (which you probably didn’t know).

I was born in raised in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. Home of the Stratford Festival, CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, two-time Stanley Cup winner Tim Taylor, pop sensation Justin Bieber, and an extremely small, stuffy, 4-lane YMCA pool. Like most young swimmers, I always had big dreams about going to the Olympics, and refused to let the fact that I was on a team that couldn’t even afford to send a coach to provincials stop me from setting my sights as high as possible. I spent a decade swimming with SKYAC (Stratford Kinsmen YMCA Aquatic Club) before I was plucked out of the boonies by North York head coach Murray Drudge. I billeted and trained in Toronto during my grade 12 year before heading across the border to accept a swimming scholarship at Texas A&M University. It was there that I really began to improve thanks to better facilities, experienced coaches and training partners that were borderline insane during practice. After five years in College Station, Texas, I decided to return to Canada. Only this time, I headed out to the west coast to train with Randy Bennett at the Victoria Academy of Swimming. And for those who are wondering, the answer is yes: I did drive the 5,000 plus kilometers from the Lone Star State to Beautiful British Columbia. But that is a story for another time.

So, now that you are a little more up-to-date on my swimming career thus far, I can start blogging about where I am at, right now, with my swimming. Last weekend I was in Irvine, California, for what is considered to be the fastest International meet of this summer: the Pan Pacific Championships. Although I could have swum numerous events, my coach Randy has decided to focus on what I like to call “my baby”: the 200 IM. So, unlike the 2008 Olympics, I only swam three individual events: the 50 backstroke, 100 backstroke, and 200 Individual Medley.

100 backstroke was the first day: a chance to “get off the blocks” and get all the jitters out. I was really nervous before the race: I had some trepidations prior to the meet. Having just switched programs, I had no idea what to expect from myself. Would Randy’s taper work for me? Was I still in an adjustment period? Was I stronger, weaker, faster, or slower than I had been before I began swimming in Victoria? It was time to find out. Needless to say, I was fairly nervous just before the race, and ended up losing my breakfast in some bushes outside the ready room. Now, understand that this is no reason for me to be concerned: it is a fairly well-known fact that I throw up when I get nervous. In fact, I think it usually throws off my competition way more than it does me. But, the nerves were unnecessary: I had an awesome race in the morning–only seven tenths off my best time from the Olympics–putting me into the eighth-place slot at night. I dropped some more time in my finals swim, coming out fifth overall. I will still a tenth off my best time, and two tenths away from reclaiming my Canadian record, but without the poly-urethane suit from 2009 it was exciting to be that close to my best time… considering my best time was from before I had shoulder surgery in fall of 2008.

The 100 gave me lots of confidence for the 50 backstroke, and on the second morning, I broke my Canadian record and again qualified for the final. Unfortunately, a bad start at night cost me a spot on the podium, however, this fired me up for the 800-meter freestyle relay. We managed to snatch the bronze medal and ended up with the fifth-fastest time in the world in 2010. The following night, we were out-touched for the silver by Australia in the 400-meter freestyle relay, but broke the Canadian record in the race. I’m excited for a rematch at Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

Then, on the fourth and final morning, it was the moment I’d been waiting for: the 200-meter IM. My best event: the race I hold the Canadian record in and placed seventh in Beijing. The fact that I had been swimming well all weekend filled me with confidence, and I ended up only a tenth off my Canadian record after my morning swim. More importantly, I was going into the final third. I had never been in medal contention at an international competition… and it was a new kind of nervous. But, I tried not to focus on the outcome, because, ultimately, you can never control how fast your competitors will go. So, I focused on the little things: getting my head down in fly, working my underwater and building my stroke rate in backstroke, keeping myself forward in breaststroke, and bringing it home strong on the freestyle. Unfortunately, I was out-touched for the bronze. But, I went a huge best time. My old record was set at the Beijing Olympics and I had not been close to it since that. After this past weekend, the Canadian record stands at 2:11.31: the 12th fastest time in the world this year, less than 1.5 seconds off the fastest time in the world in 2010.

So, overall, a great weekend for me. Two bronze medals on relays, three Canadian records, and, more importantly, a great sense of relief. I knew switching programs would be hard, but leaving Texas A&M, my friends and boyfriend to come train in Victoria was even harder than I imagined. But, it has and will be worth it when I finally do get on that podium. Coming fourth at Pan Pacs only made it easier to get back to work two days later. No summer vacation for this gal, but Commonwealth Games are looming and I refuse to get out touched again.