Q and A: Olympic hopeful Allya Vavra

IDS What’s the atmosphere like there in Omaha? Is it all tense all the time, or are there down moments where you can sense the camaraderie among the swimmers?

Vavra It depends. I have a lot of friends on a lot of different teams and end up supporting them as well. At the same time, there are people I want to beat. For the most part, though, I am pretty locked into meeting my own goals in the races.  

IDS What have been some highlights so far aside from the races?

Vavra It’s nice getting to see friends, but quite honestly, I was devastated after (the
400 IM). 

IDS Well, not to revisit a fresh, painful memory, but let’s go back to the 400 IM for
a second.

Beforehand, you had called it the “biggest swim” of your week and said you knew it might have been your best shot of making the Olympics. What kinds of emotions were flashing through your mind in the moments right before
the race?

Vavra Well, the people that are in my race are the same ones I’ve been racing against at the NCAAs for the past few years, which helped calm
me down.

Also, I’ve been swimming at national level meets since I was 14. Still, I’ll admit I was nervous when I first got to the pool, but the pressure vanished once I warmed up and got acclimated.

IDS Once you touched the wall and looked up to see your time, what were your initial thoughts?

Vavra Disappointment. I was disappointed in myself in every single swimming-related aspect imaginable. I don’t think I spoke to anyone for half an hour; I was completely speechless. I’m extremely hard on myself, so the time is meaningless. 

I’ll just say that I train at a much higher level than I swam. I feel like I really let
myself down.

To the outsider’s eye, I’m sure it looks impressive, finishing one spot out of the finals, but I know I’m capable of more. I sacrificed so much to put myself in position
to have this opportunity.

Not only in the pool; there are other aspects that people might not always think about. Giving up going out with friends on weekends.
Swimming 10 times a week.

Recently, I’ve been in the water five and a half hours a day. No one else does that. It really is a letdown to see all that hard work go to waste. 

IDS You still have four races remaining this week (200 IM, 200 butterfly, 200 breaststroke, 200 backstroke). Even though you’re not on the national team for any of those events like you are for the 400 IM, do you still have lofty
expectations for them?

Vavra Honestly, I don’t have any expectations anymore. I had high expectations to start week but fell on my face.

So now, I’m just going to go out there to have fun. I wouldn’t be doing this if
I didn’t love doing it.

I can’t overstate how important it is for us to always keep in the back of your mind that we chose to do this and have to love swimming if we’re going to commit ourselves to the extent we do. 

It’s like that for everyone. There were so many people who burned out, and I truly don’t blame them.

I can’t imagine putting myself through what I do if I didn’t still enjoy it.
When I was 14, I made my first nationals. Then after I turned 16, I went five whole years until I swam another best time again.

I definitely questioned myself during that time, constantly asking myself, ‘Why would I put myself through this? Is it worth it?’ There are still some days where I ask myself similar questions.

But then it comes back to the simple fact that this is something I’m good at. This is a gift I’ve been given. There are so many people — I’ve experienced things lots of people won’t ever have a chance to experience, and for that I’m so grateful. 

(IU Head Coach Ray Looze) told me, ‘Some families don’t get one kid as talented
as you are.’

He also swam, and he got the talent. It’s something you have to end up embracing. In this sport, it’s not for everybody. I’ve given up a lot of things — things other people take for granted.

When I get up in the morning, sometimes I have to remind myself to embrace the talent I’ve been given.

Speaking of all that talent, you, along with track star and fellow NCAA Champion Andy Bayer, were just recognized for maximizing it this past season, having been named IU Athlete of the Year on Monday.

What does an accolade like that mean to you? 

Vavra It’s a huge honor, especially because there are so many talented people in each sport. I took a class with Andy, so I know how good of an athlete he is, and there’s no one more deserving than him when it comes
to that award.

Not only in the classroom — he’s a really good student — but also to win the NCAAs, is very impressive.

So many other people have done great things athletically. I’m just lucky enough to be named.

If I could say that I helped my school and my program, that would be fantastic. Also, I want to help the reputation of student-athletes. I don’t look for people to congratulate me for my accomplishments.

If they were going to congratulate me — and I think a lot of student-athletes would agree with me — I would want them to do so for the long hours of hard work I’ve put in here at IU. 

On another note, it’s nice that swimming and track are being honored.
We don’t get recognized that often, and I think it’s important to note that people in other sports are doing great things as well.

Hopefully, honors like this will attract more people to swimming and
track meets.

He and I are world-class athletes; we just don’t get our shots at glory as often as basketball or football stars do.

It’s great for our sports to get more exposure, though, which is why this award means so much.

Most of the student body doesn’t pay attention to us unless they are directly in contact with us. Hopefully, more people will come to see the team next year.
I know how hard we work, and it’s frustrating sometimes when no one shows up to our meets. 

IDS How does this award compare to the records you’ve set in the pool for IU?

Vavra It’s different. This is more a product of your season and how it ended up. Winning an NCAA Championship, on the other hand, is a goal you set for yourself
going into the season.

They are two different things, and I’ll take each for what it is and be more than happy to win it.

IDS What’s next after these trials? Do you have plans for this summer or the immediate future, both in and out of the pool?

I’m going to swim at the beach and train (laughs). I’ll kind of take a few days off to see my family. I haven’t been home since December. Then I’m going to the U.S. Open in August right before school starts. Since I transferred from Virginia, I still have another year of undergrad left.

Once I come back, I’m not going to let anyone who would be on IU’s team beat me (laughs). I take pride in what I’ve accomplished, so I’m not going to let anyone outshine me. I’ll still be competing, despite the fact that I have no college eligibility left.

IDS Lastly, is it too soon to start thinking about 2016?

Vavra Oh, man (laughs). It’s so far away, and so many things could happen between now and then. I guess we’ll see. I felt like I had put all my eggs in one basket with the 400 IM this time around, but who knows what the future holds?

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