After National Title, Breeja Larson Has ‘New Vigor’ Heading into ISL Season

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Breeja Larson won the national title in the 100 breaststroke this summer. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Breeja Larson, New York Breakers. In the lead-up to the first International Swimming League pro-team season, Swimming World will look at some of the pioneers of a new chapter unfolding in the sport. Today: The resurgent national champion.

Pioneers Of Pro-Team Swimming

Olivia Smoliga
Katie McLaughlin
Ian Finnerty
Amy Bilquist
Ella Eastin
Ali DeLoof
Hali Flickinger

When the International Swimming League was officially announced, Breeja Larson was taking a break from the sport.

Years of uneven results had the 2012 Olympian contemplating retirement.

But just a few months later, Larson claimed a national championship in her return and will be part of the first ISL season.

“When I took my break, I wasn’t super positive if I was going to come back. But that is when the ISL came out. I was bummed because I wasn’t sure I would be able to be a part of it since I wasn’t swimming,” Larson told Swimming World.

That all changed at nationals.

Despite being back in the water for a matter of months, Larson won the 100-meter breaststroke national title with a stunning time of 1:06.78.

“It was honestly great validation,” Larson said. “I was kind of nervous. I told the coaches that if this summer didn’t go well, I might not want to do another year of it. The coaches didn’t put any time goals on for me. They just wanted to see how I felt in the water. I don’t think I have gone that fast since 2014. Going that fast, only with six months of real training, gave me a real confidence boost. I came back ready. I felt like I had a new vigor.

“I am fired up for 2020.”

Larson wasn’t fired up for anything in the water a year ago.

“After 2018 summer nationals, I thought I was going to be done. I was kind of sick of the sport,” Breeja Larson said. “It was pretty tough. I was training with high school kids. I felt like I was missing out on professional development. It is pretty crucial to find a friend base. That was pretty tough. I was wondering whether I still had it. I felt like I was training better than ever and it didn’t transfer into the actual races. Nationals in 2017, I got back on the national team, which was encouraging. In 2018, I barely missed the PanAmerican spot but a junior girl out-touched me and booted me off. It really bit.”

Enough that she strongly considered retiring.

“I was 90 percent sure I wanted to be done but I just couldn’t say it out loud. I called Aaron Peirsol and talked to him about burnout. He told me to take six months and that helped me to reset my brain,” she said.

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Breeja Larson; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Larson said she wished she took breaks earlier in her career, especially after turning pro.

“I got of ‘Good for you’ for getting back into it,” she said. “It has been an interesting journey. I was on top of my game in 2012. I was kind of oblivious to pressure. When I went pro in 2014, the pressure started to build. I had sponsors and chances to get bonus money and it became more about finding my paycheck than being part of the competitive sport. In 2016, I put so much pressure on myself that I had to defend my Olympic trials title. I thought it would be embarrassing not to make it.

“It was a very humbling experience. I had to look at the mental side of the sport.”

Larson worked on her mental game by getting back to the roots of the sport — working with kids.

“I love doing swim clinics. I thought maybe helping kids work on the mental side would help me think about it as well. I will never be able to go back to the oblivious stage in the sport,” she said. “Doing swim clinics is one of my favorite jobs I ever have. The faster you swim, the more recognition you get, the more outreach you have. You can make a serious impact in the sport. It is about finding the new path to enjoy the process.”

Now Larson is excited to enjoy the path in the ISL with the New York Breakers.

“I am super excited. I think it offers a lot of validation for our training. It gives everyone a chance to be noticed. A lot of our top level swimmers, the media does a great job of showing. But this will get more looks for more people. There are a lot of pioneers in this sport,” she said.

The fact that the prize money base is equal for men and women also was a huge factor for Larson.

“It is a very co-ed sport,” she said. “If it were known that men were getting more, it wouldn’t fly. We are at the same events as the men. I am excited for the racing. The fact that the ISL covers everyone’s travel is a huge bonus. That is the biggest thing. It is hard to get funding to go to World Cup events and get that experience against international swimmers. It makes everything a little more real.”

But the short-course meters makes it a different vibe.

“I think they planned it really well,” she said. “It will be fun to go best times, which probably won’t be too hard for some of the Americans because we don’t race short-course meters as much. Short course is really nice because it is a little more fun than business. That adds a fun spark to it.”

Larson will be changing training sites as well, joining Dave Salo at USC.

“I represent NYAC but I swim with Phoenix Swim Club. Next week, I will join Dave Salo at USC. That will be a really big change. Dave is a phenomenal breaststroke coach,” she said. “I am just excited to be around more swimmers my age. Our group in Phoenix kind of dispersed.”

Now, Larson will be swimming with pros her own age and will continue to work on her strength. Larson was noticeably chiseled at nationals.

“Working more sprint based than mid distance made a big difference. Working on fast-twitch muscles,” she said. “I started growing and that made a difference in my training, aerobically.  I started eating a lot less carbs. I like eating clean. For breakfast, I would play the produce game with eggs and fruit and veggies. Protein and produce. I think there are a lot of really strong swimmers, they really aren’t as lean as they might want to be. A lot of strength is hidden on a lot of people.”

Larson’s isn’t hidden anymore.

“With the mentality of wanting to beat the guys on my team, that mentality pushed me to the next level,” she said. “I worked so hard for the physique I ended up with.”

That could be the difference for Larson heading into 2020 — that and her mentality.

“Only you can reach your potential. If you believe your potential is good enough to make it,” she said. “I am trying really hard to not pay attention to everyone else’s times. But I know what my potential can be and I am excited for it.”

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Breeja Larson; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

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