By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, August 11, 2017
After a couple of transitional, uncertain years, Miranda Tucker is finally happy.
And it’s showing up in her swimming performances.
“Being happy and loving your sport have a positive impact on performance,” she said. “Being happy where you are and with people you enjoy gives you the desire to be there and continually do your best every day.”
The absence of happiness in her life and swimming the past couple of years is rooted in her decision to attend Indiana two years ago only to decide to return to her home state following her freshman season.
Her reasons were twofold: health concerns and general lack of comfort with team dynamics in Bloomington.
Per NCAA transfer rules, Tucker was forced to sit out from Big Ten competition last year as she waited her year to enroll at Michigan, although she did train with Club Wolverine in Ann Arbor.
At the same time, she continued her educational pursuits by taking classes at a local college so when she joins the Michigan program this fall, she will be on target academically.
“Mental health and confidence in any sport cannot be stressed enough,” she said. “The best athletes train themselves to know that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. That was something I've been working on in the past year; breaking through the subconscious mental threshold that had me convinced that ‘I can't do it.’
“Everybody has a place where they fit in best, and despite all the knowledge I gained at Indiana University, I knew I could be a happier person. As well as that, I needed to be closer to my original health care system to receive appropriate treatment for my health conditions.”
The health conditions Tucker deals with daily are asthma (with many factors that trigger it) and Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disease in which the thyroid gland is gradually destroyed.
While serious, chronic conditions, Tucker said she is able to control them through medication and by refusing to allow them to dictate her life or derail her swimming goals.
After making Olympic Trials cuts the week before the 2012 meet, she came to Omaha just excited to be there.
“I took millions of photos and ran around, gawking at all of the bigger swimmers,” she said. “It didn't really feel like I was an actual swimmer there, despite being entered in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. I remember Katie Hoff complimenting my swimsuit, saying she liked it, and I almost cried tears of joy.”
Four years later, older and wiser, she said her Trials experience was much different. Having to train on her own and with no coach the entire month of May (after leaving Indiana), she trained in a short-course pool at a local recreation center.
By the time she was granted access to a long course pool to swim (they all belonged to local universities), it was time for her to start her taper.
She said she was generally happy with her 100 breast swim at Trials (considering her pre-meet circumstances), but her performance in the 200 breast was a lesson well-learned: no matter what, never underestimate your competitors!
“I should have put more into that prelim swim; I'll never do that again,” she said. “I tend to focus mostly on myself when it comes to competition. Titles and medals aren't my first priority.
“It's striving to continually push myself to be the best person and athlete I can be, and the medals and titles will come along with it. If I put all my energy in the people in the lanes next to me, how will I put my energy into swimming my own race?”
She didn’t allow that to happen this summer at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships when she swam fast enough to qualify in all three breaststroke events (50, 100 and 200) at World University Games in Taiwan later this month.
“After basically an entire year of training, I decided to just let myself do what I've been working for (at Nationals),” said Tucker, who finished third in the 200 breast (just missing the World Team) and 7th in the 100 breast in Indianapolis, a pool she’s been swimming in yearly since she was 12.
“The nerves still hit me, as they do with almost everybody, but I've learned to manage them even better than I had before. The lifetime and seasonal bests I did at this meet gave me the opportunity to represent Team USA at WUGs and be a part of an incredibly talented team. It's really such an honor.”
Even though she couldn’t swim for Michigan last season, Tucker took advantage of a couple of Arena Pro Swim Series meets as well as a couple of local competitions to get in “race shape” prior to Phillips 66 Nationals.
She said her times were always just a little bit off from her lifetime bests, but she had an idea of where she was with her training. The only scare was that she hadn’t tapered after an entire year of swimming with a different program – but it didn’t hurt her in Indy.
“Even when a meet isn't successful in terms of times, there's always something to be learned,” she said. “When a race is off due to certain reasons, you recognize it and let it motivate you to improve even more for the next time you compete. And of course, winning races is always fun on the side.”
Tucker got her start in the sport around 8 years old.
Almost all of her friends had a pool in their backyard, but she didn’t, so when she would play around with her friends in their pools, she realized they knew how to swim but she could barely stay afloat on her own.
One day, she had had enough of the taunting and begged her mom to sign her up for swim lessons.
After a 3-week beginner's course, she wanted more.
“The local YMCA somehow talked my mom into signing me up for the swim team rather than more lessons,” Tucker said. “It was a tiny team with around 20 people that only swam during the short course season. By the end of my second season year, I wanted to swim all the time, and found the Plymouth-Canton Cruisers.”
As a child, Tucker said she was quiet and generally kept to herself, but swim practice was a means to take out her emotions.
Now, it’s a means to international championships, a college education and maybe a future Olympics.
“That was what I enjoyed about swimming then, but now I think it's a little more than that,” said Tucker, who loves to sing, sketch, paint and play video games. “I no longer just enjoy swimming as an outlet alone.
“Being able to put everything I have into practice and meets is refreshing, and the feeling of going a personal best is exhilarating and motivating. It's become an addictive cycle: work hard, go to a meet, have a successful race and repeat it all over again.”