PHOENIX, Arizona, August 31. ON today's edition of The Morning Swim Show, Rachel Stratton-Mills talks about life as head coach of Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics in New York City.
Lia Neal is the top swimmer on AGUA, and Stratton-Mills talks about Neal's work ethic, her mental strength and what the possibilities are for Neal to make the Olympic Team as a 16-year-old. She also talks about the team's diversity and how a scholarship for swimmers is tied into 9/11. Watch the full show in the video player below and visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.
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Show Transcript: (Note: This is an automated service where some typos and grammatical errors may occur.)
Peter Busch: This is The Morning Swim Show for Wednesday, August 31st 2011. I'm your host Peter Busch. In the FINIS monitor today we'll talk to Rachel Stratton-Mills. She's the head coach of Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics in New York City. She also coaches Lia Neal, who's a name swim fans should get used to hearing. Rachel joins us right now in the FINIS monitor from Manhattan. Hey, Rachel, welcome to The Morning Swim Show. How are you?
Rachel Stratton-Mills: I'm great, thanks for having me.
Peter Busch: Well, first let me ask since it's topical in the news, how's everybody doing after Irene?
Rachel Stratton-Mills: You know to be honest where we were it was a little bit of a disappointment. We got all ready to go, got our supplies, and it barely even hit our neighborhood. We have a lot of family in Maryland and they got hit a little harder but we didn't have much of anything here.
Peter Busch: Well don't be disappointed, be thankful.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Yeah.
Peter Busch: Well coach, you guys have a very interesting team there. It's been years since we've had a club team in New York City to really talk about but you're definitely gaining some traction with what you're doing there at Asphalt Green.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Yeah, it is. It's a unique environment. I've been there a year now and coming in there's a lot of challenges that you wouldn't experience anywhere else and so in this big city and there are challenges with school and traffic and all their outside activities and continuing to push them to be some of the top kids in the country is definitely interesting.
Peter Busch: I'm glad we had you on because just this past weekend my dad was here in Phoenix and I asked him, I said "Every single Olympic year there's a swimmer that comes out of seemingly nowhere, a young teen who nobody has really heard of until then that makes the team," and he said that name this time could be Lia Neal. What do you think?
Rachel Stratton-Mills: That's great to hear. I mean she is – this summer was really good. She's obviously very talented, she's been in the rakings as an age group swimmer all these years, and this year we just really worked on doing some things to help her jump to that next level, and she's been in that range of on the youth team and doing a good job and trying to make some big jumps this year so that she can be there next year and continue on that path.
Peter Busch: I mean she's going 54.9 now in the 100 freestyle. Any time you break in 55 you are in the conversation for the Olympic team. Do you think she has the confidence to make it?
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Yeah. You know it is something that's always been on her mind and like I said with this year's trying to get her to take that ownership. I'm really big on our athletes having ownership of their own swimming and not just doing it because this is what I've always done, really having that internal drive. And I saw some amazing things out of her this summer just in terms of leadership and her being excited about her races and excited about coming back to training. I'm pretty excited for next season.
Peter Busch: I know NBC's cheering for her. I mean what a great storyline she would be. Young African-American sprinter from New York City, the biggest TV market in the country, I'm sure they would love to have her on that team.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Well she's a really nice young lady also and that's always nice. She's just got a great heart, she's a good person, she's great with her teammates, and just enjoys being around her friends, so that always makes it fun, too.
Peter Busch: What's she like to train?
Rachel Stratton-Mills: She's a sprinter, so you know she's going to have her moments where she wants to sit on the wall and wants to go out and go to the bathroom and maybe come a little late to practice so you have that a little bit. But when it's time to get down to work she does a great job and we did more sets – I had her doing sets towards the middle and end of the year long course that we're specifically getting ready for the 200 free and she just does some amazing things and it's one of those you don't even know what to ask of her because someday she'll just blow your mind on what she's actually – how she's performing in practice. When it comes down to time to get to work she does a good job.
Peter Busch: Beyond Lia I heard there's tremendous diversity on the team.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Absolutely. I don't think you have a more diverse team anywhere in the country. We have – probably 50% if we're just talking about our top senior groups – probably 50% don't speak English at home as a first language, and then you have economic diversity and racial diversity and they all get along. I've such great team chemistry. And they have a good time together. It's a fun group to work with.
Peter Busch: I think it takes a special coach to make all that work.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: I think there's a lot yet to put in to understanding everyone's differences. There are cultural differences, there are differences in how you communicate with the parents, there are differences and you have to understand that. I can't make everyone fit into one mold and I think it's just trying to find a way to get everyone to work hard but yet understand that they're all going to handle things a little differently and have just a different attitude towards certain things.
Peter Busch: You were on the trip to Peru as well, the World Junior Team, quite a great experience for you.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. It was a great group of kids to work with. I personally love the city of Peru and they did a great job hosting that meet. It was an outstanding experience. One of the big things was seeing Lia, she was team captain, and it was nice to see her step up and take that leadership role which again as I said earlier I think is really important to have that sense of ownership of your swimming and to kind of see her excited about it and take that leadership role was a lot of fun.
Peter Busch: Impressive to see USA Swimming's farm system if you will right now because there's going to be a tremendous need for it after next year when a lot of the long time superstars retire that there's a next generation ready to step up.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Yeah. You know I have to say I felt very supported in that whole trip and think all the coaches were there and the athletes who were there and really feeling like USA Swimming is saying "Hey, this is our next generation and we want to do everything we can to help them step up and get to where they want to be" so that was really nice.
Peter Busch: Before we leave I want to ask because the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is coming, were you living in New York City at that time?
Rachel Stratton-Mills: I wasn't but being here now we have a lot to – it's everywhere – and actually we have an extensive scholarship program at our facility and Lia Neal is one who benefits from it. As I said we have a lot of economic diversity so we have quite big groups, especially my national group, that are on this scholarship and it was all started because two Asphalt Green master swimmers lost their lives in 9/11 and this scholarship was started in their honor. So it is a big part of our facility in our program. We have a meet that honors them at the beginning of the year and we do something every year for that.
Peter Busch: I did not know that, that's a great story.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Yeah, and it's great for the kids not only in their families are so happy that their lives are being dedicated to helping more young swimmers who love the sport and be able to do it so it's great.
Peter Busch: Very neat, thank you for sharing that.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Absolutely.
Peter Busch: Well, congratulations on a very successful summer and it's going to be a lot of fun to watch you guys over this next year.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Peter Busch: Well Rachel, thanks for joining us.
Rachel Stratton-Mills: Thanks have a great day.
Peter Busch: That's Rachel Stratton-Mills joining us in the FINIS monitor from New York City. That's it for today's show. I'm Peter Busch reminding you to keep your head down at the finish.
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