By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Ella Eastin had to regroup after not making Worlds, and she did that better than even she ever could've imagined. The Stanford junior cleaned up at WUGs where she was a team captain, came back to Stanford and won her three individual races at NCAAs to win Swimmer of the Year, and in the end, realized adversity is something that can be a hugely positive force when dealt with correctly. She explains what it was like, and what she learned about herself in the past year, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How was this year’s NCAA title unique -- was it all you hoped it would be?
Ella: That’s a good question. Honestly, it exceeded all my expectations. I really enjoyed it because every single person on our team had a good swim, good race or good meet.
2. You all looked like you were enjoying the meet despite all the swims, all the noise and chaos around the pool -- is that accurate?
Ella: We were. And it came from everyone doing their best -- that made the environment really positive. It was enjoyable and fun to see everyone do so well.
3. It was ironic because you all were so focused, then the swim before the next would invariably produce a huge result, and fire you all up again, what was that like?
Ella: We really did feed off each other in every way. We had a really hard year of training and preparation. We had some injuries to deal with but it ended up all working out. There’s a lot of gratification to see all that pay off for everyone.
4. Last summer after the unfortunate situation at Trials and the DQ, you went to WUGs -- I love that meet for so many reasons -- how glad are you that you decided to go when no one would have blamed you for taking the summer off?
Ella: Oh absolutely, I’m really glad I ultimately decided to keep swimming through the summer. WUGs was an amazing experience and I got to meet new people who I am in contact with all the time.
5. And you looked pretty comfy in your Team USA gear, is that accurate?
Ella: It’s always really fun to represent the USA! When you get an opportunity like that, you don’t pass it up.
6. You had a great meet -- voted team captain, were a great leader; how were you able to refocus like that after Trials to earn two silvers, and then gold winning the 200 fly by three seconds?
Ella: I think the expectations were a little different after everything that happened, but since I had gone through so much to get there -- and it was such a wonderful meet -- I knew if I swam like I could, I’d do pretty well.
7. So that allowed you to maybe clear your mind of spring for last fall returning to Stanford and the march to repeat as NCAA champs?
Ella: It really did. There was so much less stress. It was good to end my summer and head into fall to get ready for the school year.
8. A lot of people saw you all as favorites, how did Stanford view it?
Ella: I think we really had expectations for ourselves. I think that we met the outside expectations that were on us. Ultimately though, I think our own, personal expectations were a little higher than any other people had of us.
9. This was a dominating meet, how did it feel and what did it mean?
Ella: Because we were able to rise to the occasion, it meant a lot. Everything came together. We didn’t win because we were lucky, we won because we had a lot of good performances.
10. You and Simone have had some fun, it’ll be odd without her -- as different as you two are, aren’t you somewhat similar as far as competitiveness?
Ella: We’re very different in some ways, but very similar in some ways. We’re both really stubborn in the way (laughs) we go about our work, and we’ll fight for what we want.
11. You and Katie Ledecky have a lot in common?
Ella: We relate to each other in a sense when it comes to big goals. Obviously, she’s very accomplished and someone I can look to as a role model.
12. What’s she like as a training partner and even though Katie has turned pro, I bet you have some memories from workout?
Ella: It’s been fun to kind of train alongside her the last couple of years and watch what she demands of herself; how she’s able to demand something of herself every time she gets in the water. It’s so impressive, her drive, determination and commitment.
13. So you got to know Katie as a person as well?
Ella: Yes, I mean, I got the opportunity to live with her this year -- there was a group of us. It was so fun to interact with her outside the pool and do fun things together. Just to see each other in a real-life environment.
14. How did that change how you viewed her, or did it?
Ella: I grew to really appreciate Katie. Last year, when she was a freshman, I only got to know her a little bit because you come in that first year and you’re busy, especially (laughs) coming off the year she had with the Olympics and Rio! But this year was so much more fun. And the fact that even though she was finishing up her college career, what an awesome way to go out. I get to say I swam with one of the best swimmers ever, and it’s pretty cool that I got to hang out with her, too.
15. You come back and win all three of your events, both IMs and the 200 fly -- after claiming all but the 400 last year, how awesome was that -- you seemed just atop your game, weren’t you?
Ella: First of all, thank you. It was the goal to keep the 400 IM going for us, and also a goal to get all three of those events for our team.
16. How big was it to get the 200 IM?
Ella: I think getting the 200 IM added some fuel to my fire. It really ended up setting a tone for me at that meet.
17. You had some great leaders you lost from last year’s team, who filled that void this year?
Ella: There was definitely a difference with Lia gone, but we had a lot of people on the team who stepped up with leadership in many different situations. That was part of what made this special, because a lot of people had to find something inside themselves they didn’t have to worry about last year. I think that’s a really good sign for our program and speaks to how our coaches work with us and the atmosphere we have.
18. It’s funny because you mention the leadership this year, and technically Simone is a junior but has been there four years, Katie is only a sophomore but very much a leader -- but how cool was it to see this year’s seniors kind of rise up to that level?
Ella: When it comes to those leaders, they have always shown that kind of leadership. Think about Janet Hu or Ally Howe being seniors, as well as Katie and Simone, and just what they do in the pool and how they are as people -- I wish you could list all our seniors because they all played a big role at different times of the year, not just NCAAs. All around I think we just had a little more leadership this year and that was important because we really had it good being able to always look up to Lia in the past.
19. Now, a year later, does what you did at WUGs and in NCAAs -- to win Swimmer of the Year -- sort of make last year, if not out of mind, in a certain context because of what you overcame and how you performed after that?
Ella: Honestly, I was just really happy with my performances. I had a lot of fun and some good swims at WUGs, and we had a great team and I really met some amazing people. At NCAAs, I was part of something once again with great swimmers who are even better people. As far as the NCAA swims that I had, maybe there are only so many people who win all three of their events, and I am certainly honored to be seen in that group. So I think all of that put me in a position with some great company to win that award, and I am really proud of that. It’s really exciting to receive that honor and be up there with all the swimmers who have won it over the years. I owe a lot of that to a lot of people, because something like this seems like an individual honor but there are family, teammates, coaches, Stanford support staff and others who constantly help you improve and stay focused.
20. What did this year teach you about yourself?
Ella: Well, I never had to really question anything, or maybe re-evaluate is a better word for it. I had to do that this time. There was a lot of heartbreak and a lot of difficulty that I had to think through and make sense of. But you know what? You learn more about yourself getting through the hard times. That’s something I was forced to do starting last summer, and kind of pushed past that and put myself in position to be more successful than I had ever been before. And that feels really good.