Personal Journey: Racing in a pool built for Olympic champions

The pool at the 2012 Marriott Summer Nationals for U.S. Masters Swimming, in Omaha, Neb.
The pool at the 2012 Marriott Summer Nationals for U.S. Masters Swimming, in Omaha, Neb. (MELISSA KOMAR)
Posted: March 31, 2014

The stage was set. A temporary, state-of-the-art, 50-meter pool by Myrtha would serve as the competition arena in Omaha, Neb., where 1,257 swimmers would descend upon the CenturyLink Center over four days in July 2012, mixing their sweat and tears into the million gallons of water enclosed by tons of stainless steel.

America's swimming sweetheart, Natalie Coughlin, would already be gone, gearing up for the Summer Olympics in London that month. Michael Phelps, arguably the greatest swimmer of all time, would have stripped off his tech suit and finally come up for air after an intense seven-event program.

This was not the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. This was the 2012 Marriott Summer Nationals, the next best thing for a still-competitive, recently graduated collegiate swimmer.

Lucky for me, I was a member of Pennypack, a U.S. Masters swim team in Northeast Philadelphia, and U.S. Masters Swimming chose to host its 2012 Summer Nationals at the same location as the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, only three days after Coughlin and Phelps had secured their spots on the U.S. Olympic Team.

While the appeal of swimming in the same waters as Olympians was great, the idea of swimming in a pool that was constructed specifically to foster the fastest times known to man was even more exhilarating. Traveling to Omaha as a former Division III collegiate swimmer to compete in the 2012 Olympic Trials pool was the equivalent of a tee-ball pitcher having a catch at Yankee Stadium, a backyard baller posting up for a game of horse at Madison Square Garden.

I wasn't going for gold. I was going for the love of the sport, the adrenaline rush that hits like a ton of bricks behind the block, the fire that engulfs my lungs as I push myself those extra strokes before taking a breath, and the feeling of accomplishment from shaving half a second off my 50-meter freestyle time after training for nearly 10 months.

The pool was flawless. The water in the pool was buoyancy on steroids. I needed only angle my head slightly downward and my body glided as if I were on the moon.

I don't remember much from my trip to Omaha outside of the pool, besides trying bee-pollen-flavored ice cream and playing 500 rummy with my coach, but what I can recall is the feeling of invincibility that enveloped me each time I plunged into the transparent waters after the starter went off. No, I wasn't going to London. But for a few meters, I could swim in the waters of champions.

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials will return to Omaha with the legendary pools. With luck, U.S. Masters Swimming will follow suit, and so will I.

Melissa Komar writes from the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia.

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