By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, January 20, 2017This past summer’s Olympic Trials gave Ella Eastin a perspective few athletes – or people – her age experience.
While she missed making the Olympic team by a few spots – finishing sixth in the 200 individual medley as well as 9th in the 400 IM – when she left the pool, her disappointment came with a healthy helping of possibility and confidence that she knows will benefit her moving forward.
And it’s already working. Last month at Short Course (meters) World Championships in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, she earned two silver medals (200 and 400 IM) and made the finals in the 100 IM.
Eastin said the meet – her first senior level international competition as a member of the U.S. National Team – was a great opportunity to interact with veteran swimmers and coaches and learn from them to continue her improvement.
“In Canada, I feel like the experience was another step in the right direction for me as far as my future in swimming is concerned,” said Eastin, a sophomore at Stanford University. “Because Americans don’t do much short-course meter swimming during the year, it was a good experience to go against the best in the world and relieve some stresses and see what we can do. It was a lot of fun.
“I left (Omaha) knowing I swam well and put myself in the best possible position. Four years earlier, I swam a lot of events but didn’t handle the disappointment of not making the team well. This time, I handled the failure much better.”
In the process of competing for a spot on her first Olympic team, Eastin, who hails from Irvine, Calif., had the opportunity to watch and cheer for training teammate Maya DiRado as she made her first team in her final Trials.
Crediting DiRado for helping her find her own fast swimmer, Eastin said she was overjoyed to see her friend make the team and go on to win four medals in Rio.
“Training with and competing with Maya every day brought out the best in me, so I owe her a lot,” she said. “Every day, I had to give 100 percent of what I had to stay with her in practice, and that made me better. I knew going into the meet she was going to do some incredible things, so it was an honor to be there and witness her and other Stanford teammates make the team.”
“Since I finished ninth in the morning prelims (of the 400 IM), I was able to watch and enjoy the evening finals and see Maya swim well and make the team. She worked really hard and deserved it. And then to see Simone (Manuel), Lia (Neal) and Katie (Ledecky) make the team was awesome.”
Eastin added that DiRado’s “calm presence” and “determined approach” rubbed off on her – one of the reasons she was able to move forward relatively quickly after missing making the Olympic team again.
Now that DiRado has moved on to the next phase of her life outside of swimming, Eastin said she is finding that continued motivation from a couple of new freshman on the Cardinal team – although DiRado’s presence hasn’t been replaced.
When she needs to dig deep within herself for motivation, Eastin harkens back to her origins in the sport when she started swimming as a 6-year-old at her neighborhood pool swimming summer league.
“I came back the next summer, and my coach recommended to my parents that I join a team and (begin) swimming year round,” she said. “I joined Irvine Novaquatics at 7, and I’ve been training and competing all year ever since.”
Eastin said swimming came to her very easily in her early days in the pool, and she thoroughly enjoyed the social atmosphere – getting to see and interact with her friends and play in the water as she developed strong habits.
As she progressed, breaking National Age Group records along the way, she quickly realized she was capable of and wanted more from the sport that started out as a fun hobby.
“I didn’t take it seriously in the early days – not many kids do – but over time, I began to realize what I wanted from swimming and did what I needed to do to get what I wanted,” Eastin said. “There’s always work to be done, and I think I’m more realistic now about what I want and can achieve than I might have been as a younger swimmer.
“I set goals for myself, and I experience disappointment when I don’t reach them, but I’ve discovered the importance of setting those goals. At Trials, there are many athletes going after two spots on the team, so you have to temper your goals with realistic expectations. That has really helped me gain perspective. I think in the long run, that will help me to continue to improve as a swimmer and person.”
A human biology major with a focus in human development at Stanford, Eastin said she wants to pursue a future career in public health as a nurse practitioner. After she graduates in 2019, she intends to go to graduate school – which will be perfect timing as she goes toward earning a spot on the 2020 Olympic team.
After that, she’s unsure what the future holds as far as swimming is concerned.
“I’d love to still be competing after 2019 and go for the next Olympic team, but who knows what will happen,” said Eastin, who enjoys seeing friends, going to the beach, hiking and shopping when she has down time, which she admits isn’t very often. “Right now, I know I’m heading in the right direction as far as swimming and school are concerned.
“I’m really challenged in my classes as well as the pool, and that’s great motivation for me to continue to want more. Swimming only lasts so long, so I’m ready to make the most of this opportunity while I can. I’m just continuing to put my head down and strive for more and see how far that takes me. It’s a great time in my life, and I’m really excited for what’s still to come.”