The Olympics are almost upon us, and we here at the STACKS are SO EXCITED!
I’m extra-excited because my friend, Lia Neal, has made the U.S. Olympic swimming team! At the U.S. Olympic Trials she made the women’s team for the 4×100 freestyle relay. After beating out her competition – a number of them past Olympic medalists, like Natalie Coughlin – Lia, at only 17 years old, was 4th to the wall in the event, securing a spot as a member of the 2012 team. It was so incredible! She immediately burst into tears. Called a “source of inspiration for a younger generation” by The New York Times and “Official 2012 Olympic Athlete of The Sports Section” by New York Magazine, the teenage girl from Brooklyn, New York is making a name for herself as an athlete to watch! She’s also one of the nicest people I know. Now training in France with the rest of the U.S. swim team, she was kind enough to take a break from her rigorous training schedule to answer a few questions for the STACKS.
En-Szu: After spending so many years looking up to other swimmers for inspiration, what’s it like now that you’re the one inspiring others?
Lia: It’s still weird to think that there are some kids out there who actually look up to me for inspiration, or as a role model. I’ve spent many years looking up to the top athletes of this sport and I’m still in awe of what they’ve accomplished. It’s hard to realize that you’re affecting other people the way people have affected you.
En-Szu: What advice do you have for kids who want to someday be a part of an Olympic team?
Lia: My advice for kids who would want to someday be a part of an Olympic team is that you need to do what you love and have fun with it. If you love what you do then you don’t feel like you’re punishing yourself. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to jump out of bed in the morning to make 5:30 AM practices with a smile on your face! It’s just important to do what you want for yourself and no one else. When you do find something you love to do, commit to it wholeheartedly. When you do something, you want to give it your all.
En-Szu: Being such a superstar athlete requires a lot of hard work, and many sacrifices. What was the most challenging thing you had to do this past year for swimming?
Lia: I wouldn’t call myself a “superstar athlete” but thank you! Haha. The most challenging part of swimming this past year has been waking up for morning practices and sticking to my schedule no matter how tired I was or how much I would dread going to the next practice.
En-Szu: When did you first start swimming?
Lia: I started taking classes when I was 6. I began because my friends were taking swim lessons and my mom decided to enroll me in them as well, to be water-safe. Before then, though, I would splash around in the pool or ride on my dad’s back as he swam.
En-Szu: What do you love most about swimming?
Lia: I love swimming for a number of reasons. Obviously getting to travel is awesome. I love my teammates; the best friends that I have, I made through swimming. Being able to go best times, make cuts for higher level meets, or make junior and national teams also make all the hours in the pool and at the gym worth it.
En-Szu: After you realized you made the Olympic team, there were a lot of tears! What was going through your mind at that moment?
Lia: After touching the wall to see that I came in 4th, I was just in shock. I didn’t really know what to believe. I had always envisioned myself coming in 6th if I were to make the team, but to come in 4th just surpassed all my expectations. I guess you could call me an emotional person – I cry when I get overwhelmed, and at that moment I was bawling. My brother, friends, and coaches were crying with me, too. It was really sweet.
En-Szu: Your training regimen is really demanding. How do you balance swimming, school, and a social life?
Lia: Practices make balancing my time between swimming and school a lot easier. With an actual practice schedule, I know that I have to get my homework done by a certain time if I need to go to morning practice the next day, and whatnot. I have a bit of a social life on the side, too! I’m not always thinking about swimming. I actually try to think about it as little as possible when I’m not around the pool. I like going to movies, dinners, lunches…being with my friends.
En-Szu: How has your recent rise to fame affected your everyday life?
Lia: My rise to “fame” hasn’t affected me very much. It was only very hectic when I came home from Trials for 3 days, and a whole half of one day was dedicated to meeting with the press! But other than that, everything has been pretty mellow. That, and I’ve been gradually gaining followers on Twitter.
En-Szu: What are you looking forward to most about being a part of the Olympic team?
Lia: I’m most looking forward to finally getting to London, getting to experience the Olympics, and getting to compete as a team!
En-Szu: What’s next?
Lia: Like after the Olympics? I’ll be taking a little bit of time off, a mini-vacay.
En-Szu: And finally, I know you’re a die-hard Directioner. Who’s your fave?
Lia: I love this question! It changes from time to time, and right now it’s Harry Styles.
Olympics image courtesy London 2012
Lia Neal images courtesy Cornelius Van Wright