Monday, August 3, 2015

Emily McClellan…and the Two-Minute Drill

When I heard professional swimmer Emily McClellan was from Wisconsin, I had to interview her. She’s from Delavan, I’m from Racine. We both stayed in-state for college. She went to UW-Milwaukee and I went to UW-Madison.

Unfortunately, this is where the similarities end. I say unfortunately, as Emily, who specializes in the breaststroke, has an impressive list of accomplishments that many wish they could call their own.

Emily at a meet 
She was the first Horizon League female swimmer to qualify for the NCAAs…and she did this all four years she competed.

She won Women’s Athlete of the Year in the Horizon League and Women’s Swimmer of the Meet (for the League Championships) four straight years, another first.

She never lost an individual event in her college career.

She swam the third fastest time for a woman in 100 yard breaststroke at any level and is the third woman to break 58 seconds in this event. Emily did this at the NCAAs in her senior year (2014) when she finished second with a time of 57.76. This was the second fastest 100 yard breaststroke at the NCAA level.

She won the 100 yard breaststroke title at the 2012 US Open in 1:07 (nearly a second faster than the rest of the field) and came in third in the 200 with a 2:27.49.

She finished sixth at the 2012 Olympic Trials and just missed making the team by over a second.
She won the bronze as part of the 400 medley relay at the 2013 World University Games.

She was a four-time NCAA All-American.

She finished her college swimming career having broken the 100 yard breaststroke, 200 yard breaststroke and 200 IM school and league records a combined 23 times and as the most decorated swimmer in Horizon League history.

And the list goes on.

At the end of June Emily competed at the Quebec Cup in Montreal, Canada, and she won the gold in the 50 breaststroke in a :31.6.

Next up for Emily is competing in the U.S. Nationals August 6-10 in San Antonio, Texas.

I sat down recently with Emily and she shared her story.

PJ: Why swimming?

Emily: I love to race. It’s pretty special to jump off the blocks and push your body. It’s cool to do it with other swimmers. They all push me and I want to think I push them.

PJ: Why did you start swimming?

Emily: My competitive swimming career started at Delavan-Dairen High School when I wanted to be a three-sport athlete. Most kids started community swimming at a young age. I decided to do it and figured how hard could it be? It was a ton of fun and I got a cut and thought ‘Wow, I have potential.’ My coach, Ryon Epping, was the last person to get an Olympic Trial cut. My goal was to make state in my senior year…I ended up winning state in the breaststroke in 1:04. This qualified me for the Speedo Nationals where I swam a 1:02.

PJ: How did you end up at UW-Milwaukee?

Emily: I got some recruiters the winter of my senior year in high school and didn’t commit until February, which is late. I didn’t want to swim in college as I thought it was too hard. I didn’t know much about swimming in college. I only went on one recruiting trip to a Division 1 school. My mom filled out the registration and told me I was going on a trip to Milwaukee. I was terrified of the big city. However, the team was amazing, so I committed. That’s how I chose Milwaukee.

PJ: You had a very successful college swimming career. What helped you achieve so much?

Emily: It was my first time swimming year round. I had never lifted weights. They had to teach me everything. It was tough, yet I benefited from it. I gained muscle. In my freshman year I won and made the NCAAs. It was in Texas and my sister asked if Michael Phelps would be there. This was the women’s event, but I didn’t know. At the time I was so clueless. My goal for freshman year was to survive. It was really tough on my body. Then in the championship season, I did well. In the NCAAs I finished dead last. For me, it was enough to make it. That was an honor. Going into sophomore year I knew I could make it and my mindset changed.

I made goals each year to improve. By the time senior year rolled around, I knew the drill. I wanted to get on the podium and make Swimmer of the Year (in the Horizon League) all four years. My coach helped me a lot and I went from dead last at the NCAAs to second place in my senior year.

PJ: What is your process before a meet?

Emily: I train my body to push it to the max, to wear myself out. Taper is exciting. You get to rest. It’s a change. You take all the hard work and apply it to one race. When you taper you conserve energy. You are rested up and can pour all your energy into one race. My schedule is loaded. I swim twice a day and am in the weight room. After five hours of training, you are exhausted. In the race, you just explode in the water in that moment.

PJ: How is being a professional swimmer different from college swimming?
Emily in action

Emily: I’m not on a college schedule where they tell me what to do. Being a pro is a whole new ballgame. I’m on my own. It’s my own drive and personal goals. It’s not about the team. I don’t have my weight coach. It’s been an adjustment. I am training in California and it’s coming around. It was hard to be my own boss at first.

Now I do club swimming, instead of dual meets. I didn’t have a lot of background with this. I train every day and try to keep things similar. I train with Dave Salo, the coach at USC and the Trojan Swim Club. I am not a sprint-based swimmer, yet he coaches this way. This year I have been learning this, so training is different.

PJ: How has sprint training impacted your swimming?

Emily: Getting faster doesn’t happen overnight. This is a transition and you have to be patient. I haven’t hit goal times, but I can tell by the way I workout that my speed has increased. I hope that when taper comes I am rested and can apply it all.

Yardage swim at practice is a lot different. With Dave the intensity is harder with fewer yards. In college I did more laps and it was more about pacing. At practice now I am more exhausted and have had to teach my body to push itself until it breaks down. When Dave says ‘All out, maximum effort,’ I do it.

PJ: What is your typical day?

Emily: I wake up and swim two hours in the morning. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I do weights in the afternoon. While on Tuesday and Thursday I do one hour of cardio outside of the pool. Occasionally, I swim two hours in the morning and afternoon on one day. I have to let my body recover so I am ready for the next day.

PJ: What motivates you?

Emily: I’ve set goals and even on my toughest days I think ‘I’ve come this far, it would be upsetting if I didn’t achieve my goals.’ I’ve worked way too hard to give up. I want to be able to say to my grandkids that it was pretty special that I got to the NCAAs or Olympic trials. I want this to define this part of my life.

PJ: Who is your mentor?

Emily: My mom (June) is a big motivator. She is an inspiration, is so positive, and loves everything she does. She’s been my biggest fan and loves going to my meets and being in the stands. It makes me want to do it for her.