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Independent swimmer finds success with Calvin team
By Annalise Venhuizen

Having teammates is a given for most athletes. So is having a coach. But swimming without either has led Alex Wilson to see both as blessings.

Because neither her junior high nor high school had a swim team, Wilson swam and competed with the Penguins Swim Team in Youngstown, Ohio. “There were four or five other independent swimmers in my age grouping. We trained and competed in USS (United States Swimming) club meets during the winter,” Wilson said. “During the off-season we took it easier, but trained long course, which is swimming in a 50-meter pool instead of a 25-yard pool like we have here at Calvin.

Alex Wilson“I don’t know how I did without it and trained individually in high school,” added Wilson, a senior team captain who majors in bio-logy with hopes of earning a graduate degree as a physician assistant. “In [Coach] Dan [Gelderloos] I’ve now had a consistent coach for all four years who loves the sport and gives it his all.”

Wilson’s family belonged to a summer swim club when she was about 7 years old. “I did gymnastics for a while but kept getting hurt, so I stuck with swimming,” she said. That decision proved to be the right one, as Wilson kept swimming throughout every leg of her schooling. The transition to a higher level of competition was smooth for Wilson because of the package deal that comes along with swimming for a school team. “The biggest difference between high school and college was that I came from swimming independent to training with a solid team who was with me the whole season and at all of the meets,” Wilson said. “It’s the best aspect of swimming.”

Having a coach was a requirement at the high school level, even for independent swimmers like Wilson who were allowed to compete in the postseason meets. Because she had none, Wilson’s dad took on the coaching role. “He was legally my high school coach. He’d go to all my meets, come on deck and go to coaches’ meetings. He knows the basics and was always there,” Wilson said.

Though no longer needed to act as coach, Wilson’s father still makes it to her postseason meets. “My mom and dad have come to every conference and national meet. They are supportive but not too involved — supportive enough without being overbearing,” Wilson said. Though her parents were unable to make it to nationals this year, they found a creative way to cheer their daughter on: “They sent me a package for nationals with a note for each day,” Wilson said.

At Calvin, Wilson made three visits to nationals. As a sophomore in 2005, Wilson barely qualified for the NCAA III meet in the 100 breaststroke, but also competed in the 200 breaststroke and both medley relays. “It was a new experience for me. I was kind of frightened and overwhelmed and felt like I shouldn’t be there. But I made finals in the 200 breaststroke and finished 14th. I had a good swim and it was very exciting,” she said.

Last season, Wilson again swam in the 100 and 200 breaststroke and both medley relays, and she also qualified in the 200 individual medley. “Though I still had a good time with the 10 girls who went, I didn’t swim well at all,” Wilson said. “I was burnt out from the year.”

That’s no surprise considering the hours of training swimmers put in during the six months they are in season. “It’s rough,” Wilson said. “Early in the season, October through December, we have 10 practices a week and will have a meet on most weekends as well. November is definitely the roughest part of the training season; we do about 10,000 yards a day at practice and have meets. Then we taper off for conference and nationals.”

But this year, the training did not leave Wilson feeling overworked. Instead the practice was part of a formula that added up to success. “I knew what to expect because I had competed at nationals before,” Wilson said. “Because I knew what I could do, I had confidence in that.”

Added to her experience and practice is an energy that came from knowing she was at the height of her career, quite a difference from the feeling of exhaustion at last year’s national meet.

“I thought I had plateaued, but I got better this year,” Wilson said about setting three personal record times at the conference meet, which qualified her for nationals in all three events. Wilson then finished 10th in the 100 breaststroke and 13th in the 200 breaststroke for honorable mention All-American honors.

She was also a part of Calvin’s honorable mention All-America 400 medley relay team that placed ninth and a team that finished fourth at the NCAA III Championships overall. The finish was Calvin’s best ever, while the size of its nationals contingent was also its largest.

Wilson used her teammates’ encouragement to reach success: “Give the team all the credit. I love them. They are the only reason I swam well.”