By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Giving up never crossed National Teamer Ella Eastin’s mind. The native of Orange Country and junior to be at NCAA Champ Stanford brought her “A” game back to campus after Olympic Trials and two silver medals at Short Course Worlds in Windsor, Ontario. She talks about life at Stanford, and moving on from adversity in life, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Have you been able to enjoy your two individual and team NCAA Championship yet?
Ella: Yes and no. We’ve had occasions here and there to stop and celebrate and enjoy the time with your team. But we went right back into the swing of things right when we got back to school with spring quarter, training at the Olympic Training Center, and everything.
2. Breaking teammate Katie Ledecky’s record in the 400 IM, did you see that coming on your way to that NCAA title?
Ella: Definitely not. Not that I doubted my abilities, but just based on how things went the night before, and how I generally felt at the meet were not the way I hoped and dreamed of. The only goal was to win it for my team -- that was the only thing that was getting me through it. Though I did know (during the race) that the time would be pretty good.
3. And though Cal Olympian Kathleen Baker edged you for the 200 IM title, you had it in you to repeat as champion in the 200 fly -- how cool is that?
Ella: I think a lot of that is from a good mixture of endurance and strength training. The 200 fly is interesting because you can’t go out too slow, but you can’t go out too fast. So it’s a tricky balance of finding the sweet spot in how fast you go for how long. The 200 IM and 400 IM helped me because I have more of a base compared to if I was swimming the 100 and 200 fly (and not the IMs). For the 200 fly, I just have to stay in my lane; people go out faster than I do. Underwaters are important in the 200 fly so you have to make sure you stay smooth and strong and build as you go.
4. You looked relaxed in winning the 200 fly -- is that accurate, or possible?
Ella: I think that’s one thing that I do pretty well when I am swimming. I never rush. If I were to do that I’d feel even more on edge, so I try to stay as relaxed as possible. It stresses people out (laughs) when they are watching me because I usually build my speed throughout the race. You can’t tell because my tempo is pretty consistent the whole time. Trying to stay relaxed is important because it’s not just a couple of laps -- it’s eight -- so you don’t want to get worn out.
5. That was a pretty full plate for you this year at NCAAs, wasn’t it?
Ella: I swam the same events last year. So going into this year I was a little bit more aware of what was coming. I actually swam one or two more races last year than this time around, so that helped mentally going into the last day. But as far as volume of races, that is pretty standard for my list of events. Those tend to be my events I do my best in short course and long course. I’m definitely still getting used to that but as I get more experience it gets easier to handle.
6. Everyone seemed so happy for the wonderful Lia Neal at Stanford -- I bet you felt that too for her?
Ella: Oh, absolutely. She would tell you this too but a lot of that team effort was for her. (Stanford coach) Greg (Meehan) really emphasized the importance of appreciating what Lia’s meant to the program. He recruited her when he was just starting at Stanford. So she had to trust and have faith in what he told her he was going to do. He built the program up with her. Seeing the evolution of that I am sure makes it even more special for Lia.
7. How about Simone’s 100 free at NCAAs?
Ella: Honestly, I was shocked! I knew she was going fast because she was incredibly far ahead in terms of the length of the race. To see someone move that fast in the water -- and to have seen her do it on a daily basis -- makes you really appreciate that kind of speed and ability she has. And that was one of the fastest heats ever. And yet she ran away with it. It was a best time for Lia, and I think for Olivia Smoliga, too. So it’s a pretty cool way for her to win that, especially coming back off the Olympics with so much attention and being so busy, but still having it in her to succeed and reach a new level.
8. Your wonderful Sports Information Director, Eric Dolan, always has to balance out media requests with your academics -- it really is incredible what you all put into the entire program, isn’t it?
Ella: Absolutely. And I don’t know of one person here who lets one area of their life kind of dwindle in terms of effort they give for one or the other. You don’t see an athlete who lets their academic commitments sit on the back burner. Having a good balance of those goals is important. Yet having that kind of challenge in school is the best distraction you can have because you have two goals to work for. Your mind is here when you are in the pool and when you step off deck there is another goal to work hard for. So you are working toward two incredible things. And your degree is more than something just to “fall back on,” because while swimming can be a career for a few people, it’s still going to end for all of us, and that degree is going to help you work toward what you are doing the rest of your life.
9. Have you declared a major now that your sophomore year is ending?
Ella: I am in the process of declaring Human Biology in the next week. I have taken several of the human biology core classes -- cell biology, human evolution, psychology, health and environmental. I hope to go to nursing school or be a nurse practitioner and go into delivery.
10. So feeling pressure from swimming might help with that, won’t it?
Ella: I definitely want to continue to be challenged and be put in stressful situations. My Grandma has been a nurse for over 50 years and still teaching at a school in Los Angeles, and is my role model in that sense -- actually, in every sense, and a person I have looked up to my entire life. And my mother is in health sciences so I have had that inspiration from a young age. I do want to continue to work hard and be challenged. So I think the pressure I’ve experienced can help me continue to grow.
11. Is this the Grandma who was a pioneer in professional golf and how cool is it that your lineage includes such overachievers in work, and in sports?
Ella: No, this is actually my Grandma on my Mom’s side of the family. The achievement is something to be proud of but I don’t think my parents ever put pressure on my sister (Emily) and I to do anything other than what we wanted to do. They wanted it to come from our own motivation. But we could use them as examples to see what direction we wanted to take that would lead us to success. That definitely set us up to embrace challenges, and to learn from them if there is adversity and not give up.
12. You and Emily are only 11 months apart, so you’re pretty close then?
Ella: We are less than a year apart but we’re actually very different. And I think more so what we don’t have in common is what has helped us become closer and grow to appreciate each other more. We were together every single day, going to swim practices and having a similar group of friends. Of course we butted heads like siblings do but now that we’re apart -- she swims for Michigan -- we appreciate each other more, and talk more frequently than we probably even did at home. It’s great to support each other even though we’re in different places of the country now.
13. Katie Ledecky joining Stanford this year and her amazing Olympic and NCAA performances -- what do you see in her that makes her so successful.
Ella: She and Maya (DiRado) and Lia and Simone are so similar in how hard they work and how they are great leaders, but they are all different individually which is really neat to see and experience. In terms of Katie, you are constantly amazed at her ability to show up every day. Honestly, she swims faster than anyone in the world every single day. That’s a crazy thing to wrap my mind around as you watch her. But you see how she’s immersed herself in the team and how she doesn’t look at herself any differently. Sometimes, (laughs) we’ll be like, “Katie, you can brag a little bit and at least say you did a good job!” She is so wonderfully humble and genuine. She’s never satisfied and always driven to be better, which makes us better in practice. She made everyone on our team better.
14. How did you rebound so strongly from Olympic Trials?
Ella: Honestly, I don’t think that I ever was thinking of it as a rebound. I had my experience at Trials -- I had my summer that I did -- and then right when I got back into training, it was time to move on and not look back. I had so much good training behind me that it hadn’t gone away. I knew I would be capable of having good times no matter what happened. Even when we went to (short course) Worlds, I had been at home for a few days not training hard and was preparing for finals at school when I got word I was going, and it was a whirlwind of a trip. I went to our practices, competed, and in between I did my school work, got my rest, and got prepared for the next swim. It was busy, but a great experience.
15. What did you think of beautiful Canada?
Ella: It was very beautiful. And it was freezing! I’m not (laughs) used to that. We stayed in this very pretty casino resort type place and got to interact with the different countries. It was great to have meals together. And it was cool see Detroit across the water; bizarre to be in a different country but see America just across the water. So I’ve been to Vancouver and Windsor so I guess I have another (laughs) of my Canadian cities off my bucket list!
16. Your Junior Team coaches talked about what a great leader you were and how hard you prepared, how much did that Junior Team experience prep you for the past year?
Ella: Thank you. That’s nice to hear. I grew a lot in the course of the three years I was on the Junior Team and with the coaches and staff at the camps, traveling to Singapore, Tokyo, China -- all the places we went on those trips and for World Cups. The Junior Team coaches got to see my growth every few summers. I stepped up to try to make the National Team but did not -- and the time I did have a qualifying time it wasn’t at the right time, so I was on the Junior Team again. But I think going through that process and not being 100 percent satisfied with the performances -- and having so much fun with it -- made how everything happened okay. I made so many friends and people I look at as mentors from the Junior Team. I experienced so much more as a 15- and 16-year-old on the Junior Team than I might have on the National Team. I was kind of young at the time so I would justify not making it as maybe it didn’t happen because I just wasn’t ready yet, or maybe wasn’t mature enough. So I knew that it would come when I was ready for it and I’d be prepared correctly. Looking back now, those National Junior Team trips were some of the most fun, and I’ll be forever grateful to the people who made them happen.
17. You mentioned growing on the Junior Team trips, did that help you with not just swimming, but maybe even for becoming a college student?
Ella: Oh, absolutely. You learn so much being with a new group of people for a week doing things you’ve never done before. Leaving the country without your parents. Walking around foreign cities. Learning to communicate with people you just met. Navigating new things, understanding people who don’t speak English. Building relationships quickly. Finding comfort in teammates in hard and good times. Those experiences are invaluable and something I’m so lucky to have had at that age to prepare me to come to college. And it also helps you know what you have to do when you are missing school at times and keeping up on your work and your professors up to date on what’s happening.
18. Swimming for Greg and Associate Head Coach Tracy Slusser -- what’s that been like in terms of what’s expected?
Ella: I think Greg and Tracy were very upfront and honest when recruiting us. They would never tell someone something that wasn’t the case. They are very frank about the program and the challenges, so the interactions with the recruits are very honest. They tell you, you have to want to be here for the school, the team -- the program -- and for yourself, so you see things very clearly before you make the decision. And it’s been great since I’ve been here. I will tell Greg and Tracy everything; I am pretty much an open book. Yet I never expected such fruitful conversations with coaches; yes, they are my coaches and mentors, but I am also competing and giving my best back to them in terms of the program they’re running. So it has been even more comfortable than I thought it would be. They encourage reflection, and I have learned things about myself that they have helped teach me that I wouldn’t have recognized without them. That has helped me gain confidence, perspective and direction.
19. How did you end up in swimming with such strong family ties to basketball, baseball, golf and other sports?
Ella: I definitely think (laughs) it picked me. I am not the most coordinated on land. My parents put me in the water before I was a year old and I was very comfortable. That’s not normal for an infant to adapt that fast. And my sister was the same way. There were pools everywhere around where we lived in southern California and the worst thing ever would be for someone not to be water safe -- that’s all our parents wanted when they introduced us to swimming. But we ended up never wanting to leave the water. We’d go out and have lunch and then we’d be swimming again. So our parents let us get on a swim team after that.
20. Your club coach Todd Larson, who passed away from Leukemia, is still a source of inspiration to you, isn’t he?
Ella: He’s the reason I am still swimming and I started to swim. I actually also lost my Grandpa on my Dad’s side of the family a couple of weeks ago. And it’s okay because I know he’s in a better place. He had a really good life, and it was time for him to be called home and be out of pain. He had cancer. But I got to see him in Arizona (where he lived) when we went to a dual meet in Phoenix before he passed away. So he and Todd, plus my Great Grandma who I was really close to, and actually named after, inspire me to continue to work in their memory and pass on the legacy they built into me in so many ways. I think I owe that to them all, to on a daily basis at Stanford to do all my work in their name and in God’s name. I have been so blessed by people who paved the way for me to be able to do what I love. I hope to continue their work and pass it along like they did for me. They continue to inspire me and always remember what’s most important in life.