Abbey Weitzeil Powers Through Pain, Cal Stamps NCAAs With Relay For the Ages

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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After spending hours at the hospital the night before, Abbey Weitzeil arrived at the pool early on Saturday, knowing no matter what happened, it would be a difficult and painful day.

The Cal junior was determined to push through the pain.

Weitzeil did more than push through the pain of her elbow injury, she turned in one of the most impressive performances in NCAA history.

With her right arm heavily wrapped, in addition to the pain of the injury and limited mobility of her arm — suffered on Friday night when she jammed it finishing the 200 medley relay — she had some extra drag with the wrap in the water.

Weitzeil overcame all of that to finish fourth in the 100 free, before turning in an amazing performance to close the meet, anchoring Cal’s title in the 400 free relay — in an NCAA record time of 3:06.96, along with Izzy Ivey, Katie McLaughlin and Amy Bilquist.

Not a bad anchor leg for someone who had their arm in a sling most of the day.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“Honestly, I was just going out there before the relay (looking at my teammates) going, you got me, I got you. We were all going to put it all out there,” Weitzeil said. “Even in the race I wasn’t even thinking about it — I was trying not to think about it. We got our hand to the wall, that is all that matters.”

It is that type of fierceness and determination that has transformed Weitzeil into one of the world’s best sprinters. She has Olympic gold, an NCAA title and an American record individually.

But her fierceness, coupled with the drive for her team that has made her one of the best relay swimmers in NCAA history.

Fighting through an injury just adds to that distinction.

“It just speaks to her character,” Bilquist said. “She is a fighter. She is a warrior.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It wasn’t easy of course.

Weitzeil went straight to the hospital after Friday night’s session, fearing the worst. Her arm could have been broken or any number of things that could have kept her from competing.

“I just finished really terribly (in the 200 medley relay),” Weitzeil said. “I finished with my palm and hyperextended my elbow. We don’t know the extent of the injury, but it is not broken.”

Her teammates were equally concerned about the extent of the injury as well as the emotional factor of possibly having a teammate that couldn’t compete.

Those worries were quickly subsided by Weitzeil.

“We were getting texts from the hospital last night and she was clowning around. That is really what helped us come into the final day. Even with her hurting, she elevated this team. That is a lot to ask, but she did awesome,” Bilquist said. “This situation could have been so blown up and dramatic, but she put it in the most positive light possible. I am just so proud to be her teammate and be on that relay on her.”

Leading up to the relay, there were added emotions for Bilquist and McLaughlin, the two seniors.

“It was my last race for Cal,” McLaughlin said. “Our team had the most fun we ever had at a meet. We wanted to have fun and enjoy it.”

Weitzeil made sure of that.

“We always got the relays. We always get fired up for relays. We have each other’s back. You just trust each other, and that is the fun part,” she said. “Well, since my arms aren’t great, I was like, ‘Legs you’re up.’ I just kicked as hard as I could the entire time. I wanted to make sure we win this.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Michigan held the lead the first three legs before Weitzeil surged ahead on the final turn.

“I remember when Abbey hit the 75 mark, she flipped ahead of Michigan and we knew we had it,” Ivey said.

After an emotional meet that saw Cal in the hunt to overtake defending champion Stanford, and incredible performances by Bilquist, McLaughlin, Ivey and the rest of the Bears, it was a fitting finish.

“We believe that we deserved that win. We knew everyone put everything out there at this meet, and we wanted to finish strong for each other. We wanted to show everyone what we could do all meet,” Weitzeil said.

“I couldn’t have done it without them. I knew I had to be last because I couldn’t get out of the pool. I knew that they had that. I knew they were going to get me a lead. They did the work.”

And they did it for each other.

“Relays speak to what our team is about, and how we feel about each other. It is just selfless swimming on relays, and that is one of my favorite feelings of the world being on a relay — especially with these women because we win sometimes,” Bilquist said with a smile.

It was the meet that the Bears had been striving for — especially Weitzeil, McLaughlin and Bilquist, who all committed to Cal the same year. They all had their best performances at the NCAA championships after years of ups and downs.

Then they capped it off with one perhaps the most impressive relay finish in NCAA history. A comeback, led by an anchor with an major injury that turned into the fastest time in history.

How do you put that meet into perspective?

“I feel like we won, to be honest,” Bilquist said. “That is a really cool feeling. This is the NCAAs I have been waiting for. I am just so proud of this team.

“I have had the most fun at this meet that I have had in a long time. Every single person laid it on the line. To me, I feel like we won, and that this is a really good way to finish out my Cal career.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Check out complete meet coverage here.

14 comments

  1. Mike Miles

    Incredible effort and determination! The definition of ‘taking one for the team.’

  2. Pat Laughlin

    Definition of tough, and determination for sure! Recover well, heal fast.

  3. Nancy Pulham

    Wow! Great swim. I didn’t know they could compete with wraps and tapes?

    • Greg Gillette

      Nancy Pulham NCAA rules allow it, but it can’t be the American Record because of the tape.

    • Nancy Pulham

      Greg Gillette thanks for clarifying.

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    Bill Youmans amanzing!!!

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