By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Rhode Island native and University of Florida product Elizabeth Beisel, an 18-time all-American and 1st team Academic All-American at Florida, has nine international medals, including five golds. Still just 24, the still-swimming Beisel talks swimming, life, what’s next, and what those around her mean to her, in this first installment of a two-part 20 Question Tuesday.
1. At Golden Goggles, you were voted the Leadership Award winner by your Olympic teammates, what does that mean to you?Elizabeth: Honestly, it means more than anybody will ever imagine.
2. Where did that come from -- the focus on leading this team?
Elizabeth: Being a leader this summer was important. I didn’t have the swims I wanted to have performance-wise. Because I was a team leader, I didn’t allow myself to sulk. I had to pick myself up and lead the team the rest of the way.
3. And what a show you were able to lead and cheer on, right?
Elizabeth: That’s what I remember from the Olympics; watching from the stands seeing my incredible teammates make history.
4. So I’m sitting there with Jon Urbanchek, we didn’t know the award had been created, and then you give this great speech, and you didn’t know about the award?
Elizabeth: I had no idea it was an award. I didn’t even know it existed. We were getting ready for (Swimming Family Feud (at Golden Goggles, about midway through), and I’m talking with (Feud teammates) Michael Phelps and Schmitty (Allison Schmitt). I hear my name, and Michael says, “You won,” and Allison and him tell me to go out there (and accept the award). I said, “I won? What did I win?”
5. So the whole speech was impromptu? I was sitting under the teleprompter and it was blank.
Elizabeth: During the 30-second walk out to the stage, I thought, “What am I going to say?” I had no idea what I was going to say. It was a huge honor. All those times to Golden Goggles, and I had never been called up to the stage. And to have it be for this award? It is one of the highlights of my career.
6. So for Family Feud you go against Nathan Adrian, and you beep in before the question -- how and why did you do that, and know it would work?
Elizabeth: Oh because Michael told me to. He said, “Beisel you are going up against Nathan. You don’t have the reaction time to do this. Once he starts saying the question, look at the board -- they actually flash the question up when he’s reading it -- and you answer it, hit the buzzer and look up.” It was brilliant. Our team should have won. But we didn’t.
7. Best answer was Cammile Adams to “Name a famous Mary” and she said, “Merry Christmas.” What fun. Speaking of those, and other, teammates from this year and your other two Olympic teams, do they mean more than the medals?
Elizabeth: Absolutely 100 percent of your memories and what it means comes from those people. The medals represent the hard work and what you’ve done for yourself. But the experience of representing your country, and going through it with these amazing people on a daily basis, and all those memories come from the people you are with.
8. Three-time Olympian, do you realize how rare that is?
Elizabeth: Such an honor. I can’t believe that I’ve been to three Olympics. I already miss the podiums, messing around in the team room, rooming with Schmitty, and all the time we spent together with the team. Everyone will attest we have had really great groups on the women’s and men’s US teams.
9. So in 2008 you’re this novice, and 2016 you are -- despite being just 24 years old -- one of the elder stateswomen on this incredible roster, how’s that?
Elizabeth: In 2008, I had people like Dara (Torres) and Natalie Coughlin, who were like my Moms. Now those people are some of my best friends. Now I am one of the Moms of the team. But I learned from such great leaders when I was younger, so it’s like me paying it forward now. It means the world to me to have people come to me for advice.
10. How fulfilling was that compared to say a medal from the previous Games?
Elizabeth: It was awesome. I know that’s what I wanted and what I needed - that was my role this time. I wanted a connection with every single person on that team, for them to have someone to turn to when they needed it. What an honor for me to be part of that.
11. You’re such a good mother figure -- and good and comfy with it -- is that something you also think about, being a Mom yourself someday?
Elizabeth: Oh (laughs) my gosh! I need a significant other for that first.
12. But these leadership roles, not just the Olympics, but on the National Team, and at Florida, good prep work?
Elizabeth: When the time comes, with having all that preparation (laughs), I’ll definitely be ready for it!
13. How great was Simone Manuel?
Elizabeth: Simone made history and literally carried the team. She’s awesome!
14. Lia Neal also made history as the first African-American woman to medal in two Olympics -- what does that say about her that she was able to do it with such class and grace?Elizabeth: Oh, Lia? I have known her since she was about 12, that’s a special one in my heart. To see her grow into this beautiful woman and be so humble about making history -- and joining in the celebration of what her good friend Simone did, was just wonderful. People as humble as Lia make these things mean more, and be more memorable.
15. You were there in 2012, how do you intellectualize Katie Ledecky’s rocket-ship arc?Elizabeth: Oh My goodness! She’s literally capable of finding cures to diseases, being a CEO or a U.S. Senator or President. A great mind, great attitude, very humble, but also, at a very young age, just an incredible leader. She’s a kid who has always done the work to get an A in anything -- and she does all the work not for the A, but to get the most out of learning and doing all the work because it’s about the journey to her, constant improvement.
16. Did anyone surprise the world more than Maya DiRado?
Elizabeth: Maya DiRado exceeded all expectations -- except the ones she had for herself. I think she was the most shocking story of the Olympics because of how she stepped up -- even when it was an event where she didn’t know she’d be competing, or the tactical thought and heart that went into winning one of the smartest swims in the Games with her 200 back for gold. And the best part is, it could not have happened to a more deserving person.
17. So you weren’t a little surprised by Maya?
Elizabeth: Oh, I knew she was going to do something special. Just being around her through both camps and watching her train, seeing how she thinks, how composed she was yet always pushing herself. You know she has that kind of talent, and that she’s always ready to go -- so it wasn’t a surprise to any of us that she in particular would be able to rise to the unique challenges she had in Rio. What a special person.
18. As a college professor, I preach Study Abroad’s incredible value -- you and Schmitty went to Thailand and Australia and backpacked it across the country after Rio, how good was that, and how important for your mindset?
Elizabeth: This is the first time I ever did it. I recommend it for every single person anywhere, every single college student, and especially any people coming off an intense journey and experience like the Olympics. Allison and I, except for a few breaks from school, have never been on this kind of vacation and exploration. For us to both take a month and not swim, not worry about the pressure or expectations, and just take in a couple of wonderful cultures is one of the best things we have ever done in our lives. It’s the most phenomenal trip I’ve ever been on; I’ve never had more fun or learned more about the world -- and myself.
19. And despite the scare media; with stories of the world being so dangerous -- where most Americans are afraid to cross the streets -- you didn’t feel that danger and gloom and doom?
Elizabeth: Oh no, not at all. I think Allison and I are two very strong, independent women, and we certainly researched our trip and were aware of any concerns. But we wanted to see it all. We lived locally, did what people who live there do. And loved it. We did all the things we wanted to do. It was an incredible trip and I too highly recommend people see as many parts of the world as they can and want to, especially when you’re in college or have just graduated.
20. It was also a chance to literally come up for air after your third intense quad, not to mention all the college swimming and titles you won, right?
Elizabeth: Oh, absolutely. Like I was saying earlier you don’t realize the severity of that intensity, the commitment, and the toll it can take on you until you are removed from it. This was great for us. Neither one of us was overly thrilled with our performances in Rio, but on this trip we were able to share the perspective of what it means for us both to have gone to the last three Olympics and represent our country, to combine to win 11 medals -- and how hard we were on ourselves. So this was awesome to look back on our careers -- not that they are over -- but to talk and think about it, and just pause and be proud of what we asked of ourselves and were able to deliver. What a journey. So this trip was about letting ourselves enjoy it.
(Next week in Part II Beisel shares the value of living in the moment, expressing emotions when so moved, and on what goes into rising to the occasion when you aren’t feeling your best.)