By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, March 30, 2018
The trials and tribulations of the past couple years have challenged and changed Breeja Larson’s life and perspective in many ways.
Since the 2016 Olympic Trials, where she finished two spots short of making her second Olympic team, Larson admits she’s experienced a series of highs and lows – which is normal for any top-caliber athlete.
But rather than dwell on what wasn’t working, she took action. She uprooted her life and moved to Phoenix, changed coaches and sought out a new approach to her swimming.
Now, almost two years later, she’s hoping her change in environment and coach will pay off this summer at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships.
“I’ve gone through a lot of transitions the last three years,” she said. “I feel that some have had a large effect on my mental state, which has made it hard to focus on my swimming.
“But just like everyone else out there, I’m learning how to cope with big changes and become stronger for it.”
Shortly after the 2016 Olympic Trials, Larson took the biggest life-changing step by moving from College Station, Texas, where she attended college and was an NCAA Champion swimmer.
In the process, she parted ways with Steve Bultman, her longtime coach at A&M and the person she credits largely with helping her find her championship form.
With anything but an easy decision, Larson said she made it with Bultman’s blessing and her own best interests in mind.
“I loved my time at A&M and will always consider Steve to be one of the best coaches out there,” said Larson, who missed making the World Championship team last summer after representing the United States two years earlier in Kazan, Russia.
“But I was ready for a change, and Garret McCaffrey’s program at Phoenix Swim Club has brought a new form of fun and challenging workouts for my training.”
Larson said the biggest reason she decided to work with McCaffrey is his “innovative and insightful” style of coaching.
Together, they’ve been trying different techniques and approaches to her training and racing that have kept swimming “a lot of fun” for her.
“I enjoy being challenged; I enjoy setting a high goal and going through any difficult process to achieve it,” she said. “Swimming offers that, and I feel very fortunate to have picked a sport that I can excel at and continue to participate in at this level after college.”
She’s also staying busy with outside activities – several of which are giving her a glimpse into some post-swimming career options she might not otherwise experience.
She still enjoys doing swim clinics as often as she can, and she’s become an Olympic Mentor for RISE – the company started by Olympians Rebecca Soni and Caroline Burckle.
“It’s a really great business,” she said of her involvement with RISE. “I’m also exploring career options outside of swimming. I’m currently teaching online courses at Grand Canyon University and have an internship at a really great independent/assisted living retirement facility.”
Larson said she has also stretched her travel muscles since she traveled to London in 2012 for the Olympics.
Prior to those Games, she had only visited one foreign country – and it was Mexico, four hours south of her family home. Since then, she’s been to 23 countries with an upcoming trip to Argentina soon to make it 24.
“Swimming has opened up a whole world of possibilities and sparked a lot of ambition to make something more of my future,” she said. “I've had the privilege of making many international friends and meeting a lot of very important people in high places.
“My love for swimming continues to grow for many different reasons, one of the main reasons is being able to see how far I can physically, emotionally, and mentally push myself and break down barriers.”
Living and training in Phoenix, Larson said she enjoys being able to train outside almost every day (“sometimes not in the winter”), and she loves the tough challenges of a hard swim set and being able to go “best times from a push” in practice and physically see the small, incremental improvements from week-to-week.
She’ll test her new environment and coaching this summer at Phillips 66 Nationals where the 2018 Pan Pacific Championship and 2019 World Championship teams will be selected – all leading up to Tokyo in 2020.
She’s spoken with her coach, and they have some new ideas for her training and she’s very excited to continue to work with McCaffrey and the rest of the coaching staff at Phoenix Swim Club.
“I think that I have a lot of potential left in swimming, and I'm excited to work hard and show it,” she said. “I'm still excited to go to practice every day and try to learn something new about how to be more efficient in the water or push myself to a new level.
“I have a lot of other big goals outside of swimming so when the time comes for me to change gears and focus more on an outside career, I will be ready and very excited to do so. I'm starting to explore options, but I am still very passionate and dedicated about my swimming career and all of the adventures that come with it.”