2013santaclara Katerine Savard
Courtesy of: JD Lasica
By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)

KAZAN, Russia, July 11. I've always had the utmost respect for rookies who can show up to their first international meet, swim beyond their potential, and even pick up some hardware along the way.

It doesn't matter how talented a swimmer you are, it is not easy to overcome nerves that are associated with reaching a new level of competition. I had serious problems with anxiety throughout my entire swimming career, which often manifested itself, literally, in my gut. I would throw up at inopportune moments in very awkward places, including--but not limited to--my parka behind the blocks at NCAAs and some bushes outside the ready room in Rome.

Every time I would face a newer, faster level of competition, I would usually bomb my first, or even second go-around. My first two NCAAs were disappointing. I spent a good part of my first Nationals sobbing on a park bench outside the pool. Without experience to draw on, I struggled to perform at the level that had earned me the opportunity to swim at these meets.

So when swimmers like Missy Franklin have the talent and poise to break a world record en route to winning at their first World Championships and Olympics, I am even more impressed than the average person because, based on my own experience, a feat of that nature seems nearly impossible.

I am also daunted by a swimmer's ability to overcome what often becomes a negative cycle of anxiety. The nerves prevent a swimmer from performing the way they should, and that in turn, will make them even more nervous when they find themselves at their next international competition.

In 2010, I was on the Canadian medley relay with Katerine Savard. That was her rookie year on the National team, and, since she grew up speaking French her whole life, was not very comfortable speaking English. I had spent the last five years in Texas watching my French get rustier and rustier, so when I saw in her the nervousness I often saw in myself, I had no idea how to help her in the ready room. I felt like, as a "team leader", I had let down a rookie who could have benefited from a good pep talk.

But, as of late, it looks as if Savard is winning her battle with nerves. Just tonight she won the silver medal at the World University Games in the 50 butterfly in yet another Canadian record time. I was first a little bit concerned seeing members of the Canadian World Championship Team racing in Kazan, wondering why they would choose racing in Russia as a final step in preparation. But when I look at Savard, it is obvious how important this step is for her and many athletes' preparation: sometimes, the only cure for nerves can be more experience. When she arrives in Barcelona, she will have this in her back pocket, reminding her that can be successful on the international stage, regardless of nerves.

Just like the junior teams give young swimmers their first taste of international competition, meets like WUGs help prepare older swimmers, even ones who may have already raced at an Olympics. Medaling at this meet will give swimmers confidence that, when they arrive at the next level up (World Championships and beyond) they can win a medal there too. It doesn't seem like such a pipe dream once you have been on the podium, regardless of where it was located.

Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M's first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.

Follow her on twitter @juliah2o

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