By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, June 1, 2018
After 2016 Olympic Trials, Margo Geer found herself at a swimming crossroads of sorts.
She arrived in Omaha that summer with strong convictions and expectations about earning a spot on the Olympic team. The previous summer, she’d been a member of the U.S. World Championship team and left Kazan, Russia, with three relay medals (one gold, one silver and one bronze).
But by the end of the meet, she had experienced nothing by disappointment – missing the finals in both of her sprint freestyle events and subsequently missing earning a seat on the plane to Rio.
“The experience left a tremendous amount of doubt with me; I didn’t know if I would ever swim again,” she said. “As I look back now, I wasn’t really enjoying the experience of swimming heading into Trials, and that showed in my results.
“But after several months away from the sport – not even taking a dip in the pool – I knew what I wanted to do moving forward. That time away really refreshed me.”
Needing a break and to get some distance and perspective, Geer returned home to Ohio following Trials.
While she didn’t resume swimming or training, she stayed near the pool working as a volunteer assistant coach at Ohio State, and also coached 8-and-under swimmers at a club team in Columbus.
She said, even though she didn’t realize it at the time, returning to her swim roots from a coaching perspective renewed her interest in the sport – and slowly started her thinking about returning to training.
“Working with college and young swimmers proved beneficial to me – therapeutic in many ways,” said Geer, an All-American swimmer at the University of Arizona and a member of the 2015 World Championship team.
“Both of my parents coach, so it was a natural inclination for me to also coach, but I didn’t anticipate the positive impact it would have on my desire to want to return to competitive swimming.”
Geer returned to the water in April 2017 to see how she felt and evaluate her level of love and commitment to the sport. She had stayed in good shape the entire time she was out of the water by working out regularly.
What she quickly discovered – even just playing and leisurely swimming the in the water – was that she still had more that she wanted to accomplish – namely sit on a future Olympic team.
One of the detriments that kept her from making the 2016 Olympic team was some right shoulder discomfort that resurfaced during her return to the pool. She took care of that problem in November with surgery to clean up some frayed tendons, so when she resumed swimming, that was no longer a problem.
Early in her return (not a comeback, a return), Geer spoke with her former college coach Rick DeMont at NCAAs in 2017 about the possibility of returning to Tucson to swim and train.
He agreed, and a few weeks later, Geer was back in Tucson living and training. She said she started out slow, getting her feel back for the water before hitting harder sets, and began talking with DeMont about possibly competing at the U.S. Open later that summer.
But when DeMont announced his retirement in May 2017, she felt she was at another crossroads – unsure of what to do next to keep improving and progressing.
“I was starting from scratch in a lot of ways, and then just a few weeks into my time there, Rick retired and that left me searching for my next move,” Geer said. “That definitely threw a wrench in my plans, but I ran into Coley Stickels (who she worked with during 2015 World Championships and coached 2016 Olympic sprinter Abbey Weitzeil) at the U.S. Open that summer.
“He had just moved over to Indiana University as an assistant coach and encouraged me to come to Bloomington to train with a growing post-grad group. It felt like the right next move for me.”
Geer relocated to Bloomington by September and started a whole new program of weights and dryland workouts (something she said she had never really done before) and also engulfed herself in the different training methods and sets at Indiana.
“It was great to be back in Tucson, even for that short time, but this change in environment and coaching perspective has been just what I needed,” she said. “I had to recalibrate my body, which took some time, but at Indiana, we use our bodies to create ‘ballistic speed’ or momentum.
“Coley is super creative with the way he does things. Our drills are all new and my plan is different, and we’re hyper-focused on freestyle, which has created a lot more speed. It’s been a great situation and decision or me.”
Her first meet back was Winter Nationals last December, where she finished second in the 50 freestyle and third in the 100 – and auspicious return for her to competition.
This season – her first full season back in the water since 2016 – Geer has been tearing up the sprint freestyle races at the TYR Pro Swim Series events.
She’s finished among the top 4 in both the 50 and 100 freestyle events in Austin (winning the 50 free), Atlanta (won the 50 free), Mesa and Indianapolis.
In Austin in January, she swam two personal bests, and has been riding the “return wave” ever since.
She said taking that time away from training and competition – but swimming altogether – proved to be exactly what she needed to regain her passion for the sport.
And now, she’s looking forward to competing this July at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships in Irvine for a spot on the 2018 Pan Pacific and 2019 World Championship teams.
“I wouldn’t say that I ever fell out of love with swimming (after Trials), but my passion and desire were definitely tested,” she said. “I’ve always loved swimming – which is why I got involved with coaching during that time away. I just think my focus shifted to far to one side and I had to learn to keep my balance between maintaining focus on competing and enjoying swimming and keeping it fun.
“I needed to find my own reason for continuing to swim, and working with the young swimmers – seeing their joy and excitement for being in the water no matter the times they swam – was exactly what I needed to find my own perspective and know that I still loved it and wanted to be back competing. I’m loving it more now than I was before, and that’s been nothing but positive in many ways.”