By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, November 2, 2018
Alex Walsh has always been tall for her age.
Coming from tall parents – her dad, Robert, is 6-foot-2 and her mom, Glynis, is just under 6 feet tall – she was encouraged to play basketball like her dad but it never took.
Instead, she took after her mom, who swam for Boston College.
It’s always been swimming for Walsh ever since she started summer club at 4 and joined her local club team (her family was living in Old Greenwich, Conn., at the time) at 8. She moved back to Nashville – where she was born – when she was 14.
“I also played soccer and did gymnastics when I was younger, but my height definitely didn’t help with gymnastics,” she said. “I loved both sports, but neither worked out like swimming has.”
Now, several years later, the 6-foot-1teenager with a large wingspan said she knows she made the right decision to focus on swimming and it’s paying off with her second appointment to the U.S. National Team,
“My mom, who swam in college, kind of threw me into the pool around 4 because she wanted me and my sister (Gretchen) to know water safety and how to swim,” she said. “Early on, I loved the sport because it was the place where I got to see my friends. That really hasn’t changed.
“Because I go to an all-girls school, I love coming to my (Nashville Aquatics) club because it’s co-ed, and I get to see and swim with all my guy friends as well as my girlfriends. I love it.”
Just 17, Walsh burst onto the scene two years ago at Olympic Trials in Omaha, where she made the semifinals in both the 100 and 200 backstrokes.
Since then, she’s added the 200 individual medley to her swimming repertoire, and it’s paying off. At 2017 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, she made the B final in the 200 back and the C final in the 100 back, but finished fourth in the 200 IM to make her first National team.
And even though her placing was lower in the 200 IM this summer at Nationals (6th), her time was the same as last year and she qualified for the National Team again.
While she didn’t place high enough to compete for the United States at Pan Pacific Championships this summer, she did earn a spot on the Jr. Pan Pac team.
In Fiji, she won the 200 IM and also won gold as a member of the 400 freestyle relay – swimming a leg with sister Gretchen.
“Fiji was amazing,” said Walsh, who enjoys baking snickerdoodles, watching Netflix and hanging out wither friends when she’s not in class or the pool. “The last day we were there, we went down to the beach. It was the most amazing, beautiful sand.
“But we swam outside during the meet, and I wasn’t used to that. It rained during one of the days of finals, and that took some getting used to. Plus, it was the start of their spring season, so it was kind of cold. When we weren’t competing, we were huddled together in our USA Swimming parkas trying to stay warm.”
But Fiji wasn’t Walsh’s first international trip or meet. Last year, she competed at World Cup meets in Tokyo and Singapore.
She said all of these meets, races and trips over the past couple of years continue to pay off in terms of gaining experience and learning what works best for her as she moves forward toward her ultimate goal: swimming at the Olympics.
She’s been working with the sports psychologist associated with her club team to talk, do breathing exercises and visualization to work through extreme nervousness that used to plague her at big meets.
Now, when she steps on the blocks for a race, she’s confident in herself that she’s done everything she could during practice to be ready to compete – and win.
“I love to compete; racing is definitely what drives me most in swimming,” she said. “My coach once said that people love to win because they hate to lose. That definitely describes me. But I absolutely love to race.
And based on her recent results, she believes more now than ever that it’s attainable as long as she keeps working hard and setting goals to get there.
And she knows she has it in her to still go faster and faster.
“When I swam at Trials, and even at Nationals last year (2017), I didn’t fully believe that I belonged there with the other great swimmers, and that hurt me in my races,” said Walsh, who grew up idolizing Olympic champion Maya DiRado and got to meet her during Junior Pan Pacs this summer. “But the past couple of years have taught me that I do belong. I now believe that I am right there with the best, and I know that will help me as the next Olympics gets closer.
“I know at the next Trials, I won’t be as awestruck as I was in 2016. I was only 15 at the time, and it’s been a great learning experience ever since. I’ve met so many wonderful people through the sport of swimming and grown so much as a person. I truly feel a part of the USA Swimming community. I love it, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”