PHOENIX, Arizona, November 23. ANOTHER of the recent crop of distance freestylers making an impact in open water swimming, Leah Gingrich of West Shore YMCA Swimming will be racking up the frequent flyer miles in the coming year. Initially, Gingrich traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as a member of USA Swimming's World Youth roster. She also will head to Melbourne, Australia to compete in the 5K open water event at the World Championships, and back to Rio de Janeiro as a member of the Pan American Games team in the 800 free. Early in the year, she swam in Melbourne at the Victorian State Championships as part of the U.S. National Junior Team in January.
During her first major international competition of the year, Gingrich captured her first individual gold in the 800 free. She swam down Australian National Team members Elka Graham, Haley Reddaway and Caroline North to win the gold with a time of 8:39.89 at the Victorian State Championships.
At the World Youth event, Gingrich wound up with a pair of individual bronze medals with third-place finishes in the 200 free (2:02:04) and 400 free (4:14.49).
"[World Youth] was a lot different than the Junior National Team," Gingrich said of her experience on the World Youth roster. "The team was so small, and that gave us a chance to really get to know each other better. I also thought that the coaching staff was great. Overall, it was a lot of fun and a great experience in Brazil."
With the recent controversy on morning finals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics a likely possibility at the time, Gingrich and the rest of the World Youth team had the chance to swim that format at the event.
"The morning finals and afternoon prelims was a big experience for us," Gingrich said. "We were able to have the experience of what it will be like in Beijing. We had to learn how to prepare for morning finals. You don't get to have a two-hour nap. You are actually getting eight hours of sleep before finals."
Gingrich's next step in preparations for a heavy upcoming international slate will be the U.S. Open in West Lafayette, Ind., from Nov. 30 – Dec. 2.
"[Training] has been going well," Gingrich said. "I had a bit of a break after the season then I jumped right back into it. I am training for the U.S. Open right now. That is the first big meet I am going to this year."
Like most elite-level swimmers, Gingrich first found her way to the pool at an early age. As Gingrich explained, she started swimming when she was barely in elementary school.
"My cousin Jessie was a swimmer," Gingrich said. "She really got me into swimming when I was 5 or 6, and I have loved it ever since."
A superstar swimmer caught Gingrich's eye early on and has been a role model in the emergence of a potential future star of USA Swimming. World-record holder Natalie Coughlin's personality has really hit home for Gingrich throughout her development.
"I really look up to Natalie Coughlin," Gingrich said. "Not only is she a great swimmer, but she is always so happy. She is always laughing and having a lot of fun in the sport."
Behind any great swimmer, there is usually a great coach. In this case, Michael Gobrecht has provided the guidance for Gingrich's rapid rise in the sport. When asked about the person who has made the biggest impact on her life, Gingrich definitively stated her coach.
"He is always there during swim practice and after practice," Gingrich said about Gobrecht. "He is always there when I need him. He does everything he has to so that I can be where I want to be."
Gingrich continued to talk about Gobrecht's interpersonal coaching abilities.
"He has a fun personality, and is always making jokes during practice," Gingrich said. "He always lifts my spirits up when I am having a bad day. I have worked with him for six years, so he knows how to work with me. He is just a fun person. If you ever talk to him, you know he never stops talking."
Gingrich definitely is a fun-loving person as evidenced by her comments. When asked what one piece of advice she had for anyone in the sport, the response is pretty easy to guess, "Have fun."
"Just have fun with swimming," Gingrich said. "That is the biggest thing for me. You need to have fun and work hard. If you aren't having fun, you aren't going to work to your potential."
Gingrich also spoke to SwimmingWorldMagazine.com about her favorite sets and drills.
"I like to do a lot of IM stuff and 200 fly. I don't have a specific set that is my favorite. I am a freestyler, but that gets boring for me. Swimming 400 IM and 200 fly is different for me. Regardless of the set, I like to get out there and race."
"I love double arm backstroke. It works on getting my pinkies in first, because I have a hard time doing that."