By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, April 6, 2018
Lisa Bratton was both sad and excited when she narrowly missed making the 2016 Olympic Team.
She was sad for the obvious reasons, having come within less than a second of earning a seat on the plane to compete for the United States in her first Olympics in Rio.
But she was equally excited because she reconciled (after a little time) that she couldn’t have swam a better race. She went a personal best time and dropped her last three 50s just as she had trained.
Ultimately, the experience, while painful at the time, proved to be a great learning experience for her – and has provided more motivation moving forward than she ever could have imagined.
“To be only 0.3 away from being an Olympian, yeah that’s hard to swallow,” she said. “It took me a while to learn how to mentally handle the reality of it all. But once I finally got my mentality turned back around, I came out a better swimmer and person. So, I’m glad to have went through it, and even more glad to be on the other side of it all.”
Last month, Bratton concluded her collegiate career at Texas A&M at her final NCAA Championships.
And although she admits the meet didn’t go as she’d hoped it would, she left feeling good about how she turned the meet around to end successfully.
Knowing it was her final season, she said she approached it wanting to make many lasting memories and enjoy the overall experience without putting too much pressure on herself.
“I spent last year caught up in what I needed to do, how fast I needed to swim, what everyone expected of me and not enjoying the sport of swimming,” said Bratton, who won’t graduate until May 2019 and will continue to train with the A&M post-grads through next summer (2019). As a result, I was not happy with how I swam and was frustrated. So, I made it my mission to enjoy my last season with this amazing team and just have fun with my team.
“While I would have liked to swim better at the end of the season, I have a lot to be proud of over the course of my collegiate career. I also had a really good SECs so I’ll take that as my ‘final’ meet. As I move forward from here, I will take the memories of what it meant to be a part of a team and working hard for more than just myself.”
Bratton got her start in swimming as a way to counterbalance her hyperactivity.
She played every sport she could, but swimming was one of the first ones she picked and she eventually narrowed it down to just swimming around age 13.
“My dad was a collegiate swimmer, so being in the water was natural,” she said. “I always enjoyed it, and it turned out to be the right fit. It provided the perfect balance of mental and physical challenge needed to keep me focused.”
She progressed through the ranks as usual and enjoyed her share of successes in the pool, but she said her definitive “I’m here” moment came three years ago at World University Games when she won gold in the 200 backstroke.
That win on an international stage boosted her confidence immensely, propelling her to her third-place finish the next summer at Olympic Trials.
But just as the U.S. men’s backstroke ranks are deep and talented, so is the U.S. women’s lineup – particularly with new faces like 2017 World Championship team member Regan Smith and the return of Missy Franklin this year.
“I think the older I get the faster and deeper the backstroke events get,” she said. “Competition is what fuels the drive to want to swim faster. But it can be a distraction as well if you get caught up in just being better than others. There has to be a balance between wanting to get better to be faster than others and just wanting to better yourself. Steve teaches us to use those in the lane next to us to push us, but we have to swim our own race. So that is the way we train.
“It keeps me driven to keep getting better and improving each season. In the end, that’s all we can ask for, best times and getting a little closer to reaching our full potential.”
Bratton said that while she’s committed to swimming this summer with hopes of swimming fast enough to make the 2018 Pan Pacific Championship and/or 2019 World Championship teams (or another international team), she’s not sure what her plans for the sport will be beyond that.
She’s taking things one year – one season – at a time as she traverses through her post-collegiate life.
“I am approaching this summer as a chance to get better,” she said. “I’ve spent too much time focusing on making teams, and I’m kind of tired of that. I’m swimming this summer to enjoy the sport with goals to go best times.
“If those best times make a team, that’s great. Ideally, that would happen. But if I go a best time and miss making a team, then I can be proud that I put everything in and got faster.”
And while her swimming future may be a question mark, she definitely knows what she wants to do once she’s finished competing in the water – although her future career plans also involve water to a degree.
“I am majoring in Ocean Engineering, and hope to one day work with renewable energy resources or coastal environments,” she said. “So post-swimming looks like grad school and hopefully internships. I’ve never considered coaching swimming, but I want to pursue my engineering degree, it’s been a lot of hard work and I’m ready to put it to good work.”
Whatever the future holds, one thing she said she does know is that swimming has given her gifts and lessons that she knows she can never repay and she will always use.
“Swimming has given me an outlet to channel my never-ending energy and push myself and preform based on my abilities,” she said. “I used to love pushing myself and seeing how far I could go, and I have come to appreciate the team aspect of college swimming. There is no better feeling than the quiet and escape that swimming offers.
“Bad or good day, you can jump in the water and for two hours there are no worries except what you are doing in the moment. I have never thought of giving up. Swimming was always what I did and who I was.