By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, August 18, 2017
Despite being on the U.S. National Team the past two years and swimming at the World University Games this summer, Ali DeLoof remains realistic about her Olympic future.
She knows it’s a possibility. She’s worked hard and has come a long way since watching two of her younger sisters compete at 2012 Olympic Trials while she watched from the stands.
Still, the dream of competing in Tokyo in three years is on her radar – and is within her reach if she’s willing to be patient and continue working hard to get there.
Along the way, she’s setting a model example for her sisters – who followed her to the University of Michigan and swam with her last year at Olympic Trials and this summer at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships.
“I am the oldest of the four girls, and I have paved the way for all of my sisters,” said DeLoof, who will swim the 50 and 100 backstroke at WUGs next week and hails from Grosse Pointe, Mich. “Yes, I do feel as though I am the leader of the four, but it’s never a bother. It’s what older siblings do.
“This fall, Gabby will be a senior, Catie is a junior and Jackie a sophomore. Having Gabby and Catie be a part of the team my senior year when we won our first Big Ten Championship in 12 years was awesome. We all help each other and get along very well. Swimming is something that we all love and are good at, so it’s really a great experience to have them all here.”
A 2016 Michigan graduate herself, DeLoof has remained in Ann Arbor for the past 18 months to continue training with Club Wolverine and be close to her sisters.
While she came up short of making last summer’s Olympic Team, she hit the mark this year by earning a spot on the WUG team competing in Taiwan. Swimming begins Sunday, and her first event (100 back) is on Tuesday.
Before leaving for WUGs earlier this week, she had just returned from a week in Italy – mostly Rome – participating in the Energy for Swim Charity Event and taking in the sites.
It was her first trip abroad, but with her arrival in Asia Wednesday, she’s now considered a world traveler – and she’s excited to get in the water and race.
“I am happy that I qualified for World University Games, and although I didn’t swim my best times (at Nationals), I’m still very honored and excited to be able to represent the United States at an international competition,” she said. “It’s a great honor and I am so grateful.
“I watched all of World Championships a few weeks ago, and it has made me even more excited to compete at WUGS this coming week.”
Being close to her sisters, DeLoof said she was ecstatic to share Trials with them last summer.
Despite the pressure of the event – and DeLoof being a contender in her events – they were able to have fun together and enjoy the experience of being at one of the top U.S. swim meets.
Having the DeLoof sisters together in Omaha was a fantastic distraction for her.
“I honestly was not even thinking about making the Olympic Team last summer,” she said. “I did not think that was an option. I was just there to swim fast and have fun.
“I was happy to make it on the National Team for the first time and continue to see my progress of swimming. It gave me the motivation to continue to swim this year and know that I still have improvements to make and can get faster.”
DeLoof started swimming when she was 8 for a summer league with one of her friends from school, and she learned quickly that she was pretty good. She continued from there, and her sisters followed her to the pool – wanting to be like their big sister.
DeLoof insists there isn’t much competition among the four sisters, as they help each other stay relaxed and keep meets entertaining.
Knowing that she has her sisters with her at big meets is one of the reasons DeLoof – who eventually wants to become a third- or fourth-grade teacher and maybe even a coach down the road – continues to swim.
“I swim because I love the sport, and it is something that I am good at,” she said. “I know that swimming will come to an end at some point, but I know not right now. I think that being around my sisters is a great motivator. They push me to be the best athlete and person I can be.
“Being able to still train at Michigan where I was given so many great facilities, coaches, and mentors is amazing and I am so grateful. I am truly motivated by helping others and teaching children around me the proper techniques of swimming and allows me to give back to the sport.”
She starts graduate school this September to earn her master’s degree in elementary education at Michigan, and while she’s in school, she will continue to train with Club Wolverine and pursue future goals in the sport.
“I've always wanted to be a teacher and enjoyed helping kids,” she said. “I've worked the Michigan swim camps and have thought about also coaching on the side. This fall I will be coaching part time.”
Having grown up dreaming of the Olympics, each passing year makes the prospect of making the 2020 Tokyo team a stronger possibility for DeLoof.
But for the time being, she’s focused on WUGs and fulfilling the first part of her swim dream: representing the United States at an international meet and leaving with a medal.
Its color doesn’t really matter.
“I am just taking things one year at a time,” she said. “Whatever happens in swimming is meant to happen, and I’m just enjoying the experience along the way.”