The Cal women will take on Arizona and Arizona State this weekend in dual meets: both of which will be televised on the Pac 12 Networks. Dean Ottati caught up with one of the team’s top swimmers, Liz Pelton, last weekend.
SwimSwam: I’m here with Elizabeth Pelton. It’s Sunday, January 19th. We’re at the Cal Invitational swim meet, which is a fund raiser for the Cal men’s swim team. Yesterday, I walked over to the snack bar and looked up and who was helping me? None other than Elizabeth Pelton (laughter), defending NCAA champion and record holder in the 200 backstroke, NCAA runner up in both the 200 IM and the 200 free. In the 200 IM Elizabeth finished behind Cal teammate and London Olympian Caitlin Leverenz. And in the 200 free Elizabeth finished behind another London Olympian, Allison Schmitt. Both Leverenz and Schmitt were graduating seniors, so Elizabeth returns this year as the fastest swimmer from last year’s NCAA’s in 3 events. So no pressure (more laughter). Anyway Elizabeth, first question is how are you doing?
Elizabeth: Well right now I’m doing real well because we had the weekend off after our Hawaii training trip. I’m getting ready for school. So I’m back in the house, and I went grocery shopping yesterday. So I’m settling back into reality — Which I can’t wait to get started again.
SwimSwam: How was Hawaii?
Elizabeth: It was amazing! Everyone gives us grief: “Oh you go to Hawaii,” but if you ask anyone on our team it is extremely difficult. We were running around in the sand, and I feel like I just sprinted for 10 days straight. It’s awesome. Just racing. We got a lot of great training in.
SwimSwam: So there are a couple of questions I want to ask. You have to come from one of greatest backstroke lanes of all time. You’ve got defending NCAA champion in the 100, Rachel Bootsma. You’ve got yourself the defending 200 champion. You’ve got an Olympian, Missy Franklin, people have heard of her (laughter). And then in the IM’s you’ve got new freshman Celina Li, and of course Missy again. What’s training like?
Elizabeth: You know, to be honest, this year I think could have gone one of two ways. With the level of excellence that is here, the team could have crumbled under the pressure or not know how to step up next to each other and be teammates. But instead it’s gone another way. I don’t know. Having this kind of environment…Missy and I, in say a backstroke set, I look at her, she looks at me. We do pace together, and it’s like ‘Oh my gosh, how fast are we going to go this season?’ Celina, I know she’s great at breaststroke, so I know I’m going to have to sprint my backstroke in training, because I know in the 200 IM that’s what it’s going to come to: That breaststroke leg. It’s really cool because we’re practicing these racing scenarios, and championship scenarios, every single day in practice.
SwimSwam: Does some of that have to do with Teri? I mean she’s a national treasure when it comes to swimming, and you’ve swum with some of the greats. What’s different about Teri?
Elizabeth: I don’t know! I’ve had people ask me that question, what makes Teri different? But she’s different than any other coach I’ve had. I think it has something to do with the perspective she takes on swimming, and her flexibility when it comes to taking on a new point of view. I have all the confidence in the world in her. She’s changed the way I look at swimming.
SwimSwam: How so?
Elizabeth: I take swimming much more lightly now. I don’t really feel pressure anymore. It’s more about on a daily basis of doing my best, of pushing myself, and when I get to a meet it’s the same thing. No different day to day.
SwimSwam: One of the things I wanted to compliment you on is yesterday at the swim meet, you were so generous with your time. Kids were coming up to you, asking to take pictures with you. I know a lot kids from our team came up me to show me pictures that they had taken with you. You were so patient and so gracious. We are so grateful that you are such an ambassador to the sport. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom that you’d like to share with some of these kids?
Elizabeth: (a little embarrassed) First off, I’m so happy if it really means something to the kids. I feel like it means more to me. If they get something out of it I get something out of it as well. I love when kids get excited about taking pictures with me, because it makes me think ‘wow, I might actually be an inspiration to someone.’
SwimSwam: Yeah you are. Don’t worry about that.
Elizabeth: Oh thank you (laughter). Any advice for the kids? I don’t know… My biggest thing is, and this is what I’ve recently realized with Teri’s help, the reason that we swam as little kids is because we loved it. You can be in the Olympic Trials, or finals, but I’ve had most of my fun standing here at this pool at our home dual meets. It’s just fun to race. I get caught up in the crowd, swimming in front of my teammates. The whole process. It’s awesome!
SwimSwam: Speaking of home dual meets, you’ve got one coming up next week?
Elizabeth: Yes, Arizona.
SwimSwam: Next week is the seniors last home meet?
SwimSwam: Thinking about the kids graduating reminds me of a question I wanted to ask you. You are a sophomore this year. What’s different between your freshman year and your sophomore year?
Elizabeth: Freshman year was great. But it was more that I was trying to figure out if I was going to fit in, or know my way around campus. But now I have my footing. I have a house and I have my established friends. It’s a lot more relaxed because I’m not looking for how to set my new life. It’s here, and I’m just comfortable.
SwimSwam: How do you like Cal and how are the academics?
Elizabeth: Cal is very difficult. School will always keep you on your toes. But it’s good. Just like the swimming expectations of Teri and my teammates are high, they are just as high in the classroom. So I’m constantly being challenged, which is a little bit exhausting. But it’s also a true test of the true grit required to be a student athlete.
SwimSwam: Before we finish, is there anything that you’d like to say to SwimSwam readers?
Elizabeth: I don’t think so. I’m just excited for the phase of the season that’s coming up.
SwimSwam: Elizabeth we’re so excited to watch you swim at NCAA’s. I know a lot of people here will be cheering wildly for you.
Elizabeth: Thank you.
(Interviewer’s Notes: I’m told that on Saturday the Twitterverse (is that what they call it?) exploded with pictures of Elizabeth posing with swimmers. I was so impressed seeing her do that all day, I just had to introduce myself and ask her for an interview. We agreed to meet the next morning. Doing a little homework that night, I learned that I was not the first to notice Elizabeth’s generous spirit. I found this SwimSwam article remarking on the same thing: Here. Also a video of the Cal Women’s Swim team trip to Hawaii may be found: Here. )