For the second year in a row, Katie Meili CC ’13 is heading to the NCAA Championships after a stellar performance at Ivies, which this year included three individual titles, two Ivy League records, the Swimmer of the Meet title (for the second straight year), and the Career High Point Swimmer title. Her blistering times earned her NCAA bids in all three of her individual events: the 100 breaststroke, 200 breaststroke, and 200 IM. Unlike last year when Katie went stag, she will be joined in Indianapolis next week by teammate and like totes BFF, Alena Kluge CC ’14, who dropped jaws at Ivies when she shaved nearly 7 seconds off her seed time to claim the Ivy League title in the 400 IM and earn a bid to the NCAA’s. It will be Alena’s debut NCAA Championship appearance and the first time in Women’s Swimming & Diving program history that two swimmers will represent the Lions at the meet. Before Alena and Katie’s big meet, Bwog caught up with the duo to learn the secrets to their success at Ivies, their expectations for NCAA’s, and how they get into those insanely tight suits.
Bwog: Describe the process of preparing for a championship meet like Ivies or NCAA’s. Are there any extraordinary or bizarre measures you go to in order to shave even a fraction of a second off your time?
Katie: As far as preparing for the meets, we swim at a pretty intense level all year long and then right before the meets, we start to do what we call “tapering.” We rest a lot and don’t swim for as long or as hard, and we lift a lot less. You kind of just rest your muscles for the meet so you’re as strong as you could possibly be.
Alena: We also don’t shave our legs and then we’ll shave them the night before.
Katie: We’ll go a few months without shaving, so it’s pretty disgusting – that’s why we always wear pants.
Alena: Yeah, we just try to take care of ourselves and people get hypersensitive about taking care of themselves the week before the meets. We also get our nails done to get a little extra. We take elevators everywhere – like we literally don’t go up stairs. I took the elevator to Ferris. Yes, one floor.
Bwog: Tell us about the suits. There’s been controversy surrounding them in the past. What are the new rules? And how hard are they to get into?
Katie: In the past, they basically made suits out of pure rubber so they were like wetsuits. You float like a dolphin, so you swim super fast, but they made those illegal in 2010 –
Alena: Because so many world records were broken in the 2008 Olympics.
Katie: Yeah, and now they’ve come out with a different version that’s not made out of rubber but it’s still pretty tight and constricting.
Alena: They’re really tight and they go down to your knees, so they kind of like suck everything in. And if you want to wear a suit, it has to have a FINA sticker on it, which means it’s been approved.
Katie: The first time you put them on, it takes about thirty mintues. You have to have someone help you.
Alena: And halfway through, you’re like, “I’m quitting.” Halfway through, I look at myself in the mirror and I’m like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Katie: The hardest part to get it over is your hips, and you’re just stuck there, thinking, “I can’t.”
Alena: And if you swim in prelims, and go back in finals and it’s still wet, it’s like the worst thing ever.
Bwog: Answer an age-old question for us: Does having to pee really help you swim faster?
Alena: No, you swim slower because it constricts your stomach. I’m a backstroker, so I get in the water before I swim. If you have to pee, you’re in the water waiting for them to say, “take your mark,” and it’s the worst to have to hold your pee for like three minutes.
Katie: But the tricky part is that once you have the suit on, you can’t take it off to go to the bathroom. So you’ll put your suit on because your swimming the first event, which is at 6 pm, and then you’re not swimming again until like 8pm, but if you have to pee, you can’t take the suit off. It can be really uncomfortable, so usually I go into the showers and pee in my suit in the shower. Yeah, I guess we’re pretty gross about that.
Alena: But the other thing I think about is that I drink so much water and so much Gatorade that what I’m peeing is so clear that it’s literally just water.
Bwog: So that’s how you justify it to yourselves?
Katie and Alena: Yes.
Alena: It’s not pee. It’s just water.
Bwog: Alena, you dropped a pretty insane amount of time off of your seed time in the 400 IM to cruise past the defending champ in finals. How’d you do it?
Alena: The time I went in the morning wasn’t that fast, but I was seeded first going into finals. I always swim faster at night. In the morning, I was in a heat by myself way out ahead, but then at night, I was right next to a girl who went to NCAA’s in this event last year and I knew she was way faster than me. So I knew that I would have to stay with her and I was with her right until the end.
Katie: You beat her…
Alena: Yeah, I beat her, but I mean I don’t think I would’ve gone that time if she hadn’t been there.
Bwog: Katie, you looked pretty shocked when you beat your own Ivy League record in prelims of the 100 breaststroke at Ivies and you did the same in the 200 IM. What was your game plan going into those races and did you surprise yourself?
Katie: Yeah, I surprised myself. In the 200 IM in the morning, I was swimming and I was like, “Oh man, this is really hard. I’m probably sucking right now.” So I thought, “All right, I’m ahead. I’m going to make it into finals, so I’m going to slow down a little bit,” because it was really painful. But then when I saw the time, I was really shocked that it was that fast so I knew that it would be better at night, just because in the morning I had shut down just a little in my head. And then in the breaststroke, I was confident I could go a 58 [seconds], but I didn’t expect to do that until NCAA’s, so I was pretty surprised when I saw 58 in the morning.
Bwog: How do you stay motivated and keep pushing yourself when you’re way out in front of the competition?
Alena: I mean I guess that’s just it – you’re so far ahead so you know you must be going fast, especially at a big meet like that. For me, in the morning when I was swimming the 200 IM, I was swimming next to a girl that had gone faster than me in season and I couldn’t even see her, and I thought, “Wow, I must be going fast.” And when you think you’re going fast, you go even faster.
Katie: That’s a good way to put it. And even when I’m ahead, I still don’t ever underestimate anyone around me. Alena was right next to me in the 200 IM that night and she had said something about how she gets nervous swimming next to me, and I said that I get nervous swimming next to her because she could just as easily have the swim of her life and kick my ass. So I’m always very aware of people, even if they’re behind me. You know, I could die and they could come beat me – I’m hypercompetitive, so I’m always thinking about what they’re going to do to try to beat me and how I can counteract that. That’s how I stay motivated.
Bwog: You both claimed multiple Ivy League titles. Which was the most gratifying for you personally?
Katie and Alena: The [400 medley] relay.
Alena: Last year, they won that event and it was really unexpected. This year, we went into it thinking we really want to win in it. Every other team has one or two girls who’s really fast in a 100 stroke, so we knew that we were going to have to work really hard. It was so exciting because it was the first night and we were just a second off the NCAA ‘A’ cut. It’s just so exciting to win a relay.
Katie: It’s just fun because you do it with three other people. So it’s not just yourself – all four of you won an event. It makes it more exciting. Alena gets really hyped and screams like a madwoman –
Alena: I know, I do. But Salena [Huang], who was on that relay [swimming last], said she looked up and we had tears in our eyes – it’s just something great to do together.
Katie: Especially because we train together all year – day in and day out – and push each other, so it’s just so gratifying to do it together.
Bwog: Alena, what does it feel like to qualify for NCAA’s and what are your goals for the meet as a first-timer?
Alena: I still haven’t really accepted it because it just seems like such a crazy goal that I achieved. I just like to think of myself as in Katie’s position last year [when she went to NCAA’s for the first time]. I don’t really have any expectations and no one else has any expectations for me. I have no pressure on myself and that’s when I swim my fastest. I mean, I really think just going there and learning the ropes and being with Katie and being able to support Katie in her last venture at college is the most important thing to me. But who knows, I’m down to drop some more time.
Bwog: Katie, do have any advice for Alena as a newbie at NCAA’s?
Katie: Yes, I have a lot of advice. The thing that I had a hard time with last year is that you get to this meet and it’s such a different level – it’s such a higher level than the Ivy League. There’s so many Olympians there, and Olympic gold medalists there, and you see them and you get so intimidated because you think, “Oh my god, they’re so much better than me.” But in reality, they’re not that much better than Alena. She’s at the same level – she’s at the same meet. I think the most important thing to remember is that you deserve to be there and you’ve earned it. And you should hold yourself as you deserve to be there and you can compete with these girls.
Bwog: Are you two looking forward to some quality bonding time? How do you plan to pass the time when you’re not competing?
Katie: No! We hate each other! And sleeping…
Alena: I don’t know, but I was sort of bummed that I couldn’t go on spring break, so I was having a texting conversation with our coach and asked, “Can we please try to have some fun?” And he said that we’ll try to find some fun things to do because we’re going to Florida this Thursday to train until next Tuesday when we’re going to the meet. So I think it will be fun.
Katie: Yeah, we’ll eat at a lot of nice restaurants.
Alena: They really pull out all the stops for us.
Bwog: What’s the plan after college? Do you guys plan on continuing swimming competitively?
Alena: No! N. O. Exclamation point.
Katie: I’m keeping my options open. I love swimming too much to stop!