Amy Bilquist Building on Unexpected First National Title in First Pro Year

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Amy Bilquist reacts to winning her first national title. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Amy Bilquist, LA Current. 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: USA national champion in the 100 backstroke.

Pioneers Of Pro-Team Swimming

Olivia Smoliga
Katie McLaughlin
Ian Finnerty
• Amy Bilquist

Amy Bilquist stood on top of the podium — alone.

After winning five relay national titles at Cal, and coming close to winning several times as an individual, Bilquist stood alone with a thrilling and unexpected gold medal around her neck a the 2019 Phillips 66 U.S. National Championships in August.

It was thrilling because it was her first individual title. It was unexpected because she had broken her hand just six weeks before nationals.

“This means everything to me,” is how she summed up the victory, trying to put the unexpected thrill into words.

Now, that it has sunk in, it is still tough to put into words. It simply means that much to Bilquist.

“It was the best way I could have capped my summer. It was a championship for myself, but also my family, my teammates, my doctors, it was a great way to cap it off,” Bilquist told Swimming World. “I have always wanted to be a national champion. I was a five-time champion at Cal, but they were all relays. I always wanted to be one individually. After I graduated, I thought I wouldn’t have any more chances.”

It turns out her best chance was with an injured hand that caused her constant pain throughout the meet.

“I could swim on it at nationals. It got more sore throughout the meet, putting on suits and holding myself up for a backstroke start is what hurt,” she said. “It is doing well back to 100 percent now.”

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

She fought through the pain and started her professional career with a bang.

Now, she is looking forward to being part of the pioneering International Swimming League, where she will swim for the LA Current.

“To be honest, ISL is changing the definition of professional, and I love that,” she said. “It used to be a swimmer after college who had a good chance at making the Olympics. Now there is a team again, relays again, you are not on your own. A lot of times, swimming professionally is solitary.”

Bilquist will be reunited with Cal teammates Katie McLaughlin, Kathleen Baker and Farida Osman, each of whom shared at least one NCAA relay title with Bilquist.

“I am so excited. I haven’t seen Farida in a couple years. We have already started our trash talking back and forth,” Bilquist said. “It is like a class reunion with Katie and Kathleen. So many Cal people and others I am close with at the sport. Traveling the world with each other and swimming for each other. I couldn’t be more excited.”

Bilquist is looking forward to racing with — and against — her friends.

Short-course meters will give the season a completely different vibe, something embraced by the swimmers.

“I love it because I have only done one short-course meters meet, so I have zero expectations. Sometimes it is a mind game if you are not where you want to be,” Bilquist said. “Short-course meters is about going out and racing. It is all about place and winning. It is also about having great turns. That makes it a good balance. For me, it is a good opportunity to get up and keep racing. I can work on the technique and the spark of my race.”

Having something different is welcomed by many including Bilquist who have felt the grind of a long long-course season in the past heading into an Olympic year.

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Amy Bilquist; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

“It won’t feel like an entire year of long-course,” she said. “This is the time when it is hard and grinding and ISL is the perfect opportunity to keep your racing in shape and not have to worry as much about the time.”

It is an opportunity like ISL that really has Bilquist feeling like a professional swimmer. She is training that way and trying to use her platform to give back to the sport.

“Swimming and lifting. Trying to get strong right now. I want to build a lot of muscle,” she said.

Bilquist is trying to continue to strengthen her body, and wants everyone to be comfortable in their own body, something she has spoken out about before. It has been a struggle for her at times, and she wants to help others with their struggles.

“For me it is more hoping to make the young girls feel more comfortable in their own bodies. Our bodies do so many amazing things,” she said. “But as athletes, we don’t look like that model over there or whatever. I want to put out more images that embrace our own beauty in our own way. If you are more confident, you are going to achieve more things. I lacked that for a very long time. I want people to learn that lesson earlier than I did.”

That is a message Bilquist is always ready to share.

She has given back in other ways as well.

“The coolest thing I have done as a pro is being invited to Surfing with Nixon for Austim,” she said. “Getting out there with kids with autism. Meeting so many kids.  That is the most rewarding thing that I can do as a professional. I am just as inspired by the people I meet.”

With more exposure from the ISL, Bilquist and other swimmers will have plenty of more chances to give back — as professionals.

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Amy Bilquist; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble