4 Highlights from My Duel In the Pool Debut

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Courtney Bartholomew, Swimming World College Intern

When I was little I used to doodle my signature in a million different ways, but I would never forget to write USA underneath. I used to dream of taking photos with my swimming idols and having them sign their autographs.

Fast forward to October 15th this year when my head coach Augie Busch approached me at practice and told me I would be on the roster for Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool. I, at first, could not believe what he was saying. I was selected for Duel in the Pool? I was going to represent Team USA in December!

The first Duel in the Pool was in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2003 with the Americans vs. the Australians. Duel in the Pool this year was brought back to Indy for the first time in 12 years. For me, the Natatorium at Indy is like a home pool. I have competed there for NCAA Championships, USA Sectional meets, and other club meets. But for the first time in my ten years of swimming at “The Nat” the pool looked like a decked-out sports arena made for a basketball event, not a swim meet.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Walking on the pool deck the first day, my jaw hit the floor. I was not expecting to see a temporary wall with a giant scoreboard or makeshift stands covering a third of the 50-meter pool. Nor was I expecting to see the pool lit up with disco-like lights announcing our arrival. The pool looked absolutely gorgeous and ready for the competition in the days that were to follow.

Prior to swimming at the meet, I had only done short course meters one other time in my career. It was for a dual meet during my sophomore year at Navy. Coach Busch and I had to re-learn my heart rate intervals for warm-up and my paces for my backstroke races. Another adjustment I had to make at the meet was making sure my turns would set up for short course meters instead of short course yards. Coming off of a long weekend of racing at the University of Georgia Invitational, I was still in the SCY mindset.

The two days of the meet seem like a blur in my mind– everything seemed to move at lightning speed and it was hard to be able to take the whole experience in. I think that this helped me to swim better because I could only concentrate on what I needed to accomplish.

However, there were some big moments that stood out in my mind:

1. The Energy from the Pool Deck and the Stands


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Walking out to energetic music, hearing my name announced, seeing the hundreds of people who filled the stands. It was an experience unlike anything. Before we walked out of the lit-up doorway, the murmur of the crowd and the dimming of the lights was enough to get my heart rate going. With the music playing in the background, the announcer would say the athletes’ names as they walked behind their blocks.

As if the walkout to the blocks was not enough excitement, hearing the crowd cheer when Team USA names were announced and teammates’ cheers (up until the moment the official whistle was blown), definitely had my adrenaline pumping.

The moment that had the most energy throughout the course of the weekend was the moment everyone realized that the women’s 4×100 medley relay broke the world record. Being a part of that record-setting relay is the thing I am most proud of.

Jumping in the water for the start of the backstroke leg, the stands and deck were eerily silent, it was almost as if people were too excited to make noise. But believe me, they did. Never in my life have I been able to hear a crowd like I did during my leg of the relay. To say that one can hear noise underwater is very impressive. The crowd only got louder as we got closer to the finish. Katie Melli and Kelsi Worrell kept our relay even until our freestyle leg, Simone Manuel, dove in. The last leg of Manuel’s 100 freestyle had everyone in the arena on their feet. And when she hit the wall, the roar of the crowd was deafening. Then the moment came when everyone realized that not only was it a win, but a world record– I am shocked that the noise in “The Nat” that night did not bring down the rafters. It was a moment I will never forget.

2. The Excitement of the Races


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

While I was not able to watch all of the races over the course of the weekend due to warming up and cooling down, the races I was able to watch in person were all very exciting. Two of my favorite races of the weekend to watch were Connor Jaeger’s 1500m freestyle and Cammile Adams 200m butterfly.

Both races were so exciting, not because they were American records and wins, but they were memorable because of their reactions. To watch Adams’ smile from ear to ear displayed how happy someone can be when they achieve their goal. To me, that’s what swimming is all about– working hard towards a goal and achieving it.

3. The Honor of Representing the United States of America

Jul 14, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Natalie Coughlin of the United States adjusts her swim cap before the women's 100m freestyle swimming final during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Pan Am Aquatics UTS Centre and Field House. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Erich Schlegel/USA Today Sports Images

For me, receiving the USA caps with my last name on it was a special moment. Never before I have I been so emotional about something. It meant that I was representing something bigger than myself; I was swimming for Team USA.

4. The Support and Congratulations 

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Photo Courtesy: Rachel Politi

I think the most incredible part of the entire weekend was seeing all of the support and love that people have to give. Television coverage does a great job of showing what happens in moments before, during, and directly after the swim. However, it does not cover the reactions of the people close to the athlete who has just achieved a goal or a dream.

Over the past week I have received so many text messages, SnapChats, phone calls, and in-person congratulations. Everyone has been so excited, especially my really close family and friends. It’s important to recognize that without all of these people in my life, I would not be where I am today, and because of that, I want to say thank you to the people who have helped me to achieve my dreams.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It has been pretty weird over the past week to hear “world record holder” and “American record holder” associated with my name when people congratulate me. The results I had at Duel in the Pool were unexpected for me, and I think, a reason the weekend went the way it did. I went into the meet with low expectations, just wanting to score one single point for Team USA. While I witnessed amazing moments and had my own great moments, the moment that made the biggest impact for me was when the meet was over, after the cameras had been turned off and I was finally away from the pool.

My mom had picked me up from the team hotel for dinner and I had just ordered my standard french fries and pizza after-meet meal. Two little girls wearing Duel in the Pool sweatshirts and their mom shyly walked over to our dinner table; they had recognized me by the t-shirt I had on and my curly hair. The mom nudged one of the girls and told her to ask me an important question. The little girl asked if I could please sign their sweatshirts and take a photo with them so they could show all of their friends. They couldn’t have been more than eight and they were so excited to meet me. This was the defining moment of the weekend when I realized that what had happened in the pool was real and was not a dream.

I am living out my childhood dream.


  1. avatar
    Bill Bell

    Great story and congratulations on a meet well swum, Courtney. Now kep,all that energy bottled up until ACCs and NCAAs and hopefully by end of third weekend in March you’ll have the words “U.S. Open/ American /NCAA Duvision 1 record- holder” in at least one if not two events next to your name.
    Then w/a “little bit o’ luck” you’l have the word ” Olympian ” added come July.
    Won’t go any further but I’d venture to say Katinka Hosszu and Emily Seebohm both presumably put their suits on just like you do — one leg at a time!

  2. avatar

    very nice reading.
    I am from europe but after your story, I realize, why european swimmers will never win the duel
    in the pool against the usa…
    Swimming is all about passion and team spirit but the most swimmers going for the glory.
    You are a true inspiration Courtney.