Amy Bilquist on Chasing Olympic Dreams Despite Another Injury: ‘I Want to Finish This’

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Amy Bilquist has endured injury after injury during her career.

The physical setbacks are so frequent that she hasn’t had a healthy season since high school. And these are not minor setbacks. He’s had surgeries, broken bones — every ailment a possible career-ender.

But Bilquist has proved her resilience time and time again, winning a U.S. national championship with a broken hand, winning International Swimming League races with shoulders in need of surgery, claiming NCAA title relays with fractures.

“I am tired of these roadblocks but it hasn’t shaken my love for the sport, and that is why I am still here,” Amy Bilquist told Swimming World.

Bilquist’s latest setback was shoulder surgery in January, but she was determined to recover in time to vie for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, something she nearly accomplished four years ago when no one was expecting her to be that close.

After all of her injuries, perhaps few are expecting her to be a contender again — which is just fine with Bilquist.

“For me 2016, a lot of people didn’t think I was in the hunt — but I thought I was in the hunt, and that is all that really matters,” Bilquist said. “I will never count myself out. If you have a lane, you have a chance. A healthy Amy is in the hunt and a healthy Amy could show up or an injured Amy could show up. I have to manage the mentality that this is such a big dream of mine and I have to give it my best shot no matter what my circumstances are.

“All I wanted to do was make it to Trials. As long as I have a lane, I have a shot.”

That is the mentality that has allowed Bilquist to overcome the challenges. Difficult as the physical pain is to handle, the mental strain is far more arduous.

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Amy Bilquist. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I feel like for me, it has been so hard,” she said. “The first couple of times it happened, it was more physically hard. Every time since, it has been much more difficult mentally. I don’t think I have had an injury-free season since high school,” she said. “Not every day has been sunshine and rainbows. I have learned to allow myself to have a bad day and try to make the next day a better one. People get too hard on themselves about things like that.”

Bilquist has enough to worry about with her pain level. She was back racing for the first time since surgery at the TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Indianapolis a few weeks ago.

“I think Indy was a very good test for me and a good opportunity for me to get back in the water and race the people I will be racing in a month,” she said. “It was good to get behind the blocks and on the blocks again. At this point, every race is still a learning opportunity for me. I learned how I will have to manage my shoulder going into trials and manage my energy. You are not going to feel good every day so it is finding ways to mentally keep myself in the game.”

Bilquist will focus on the backstroke events at Trials, since the freestyle motion is harder on her shoulder.

“I feel the most pain when I am loading above my head, so a freestyle catch is really painful for me. In a backstroke recovery, that can put some pressure on it as well,” Bilquist said. “The freestyle pain lingers. In Indy, when I did the 100 free, I was feeling that the rest of the meet.”

Bilquist made the finals in the backstroke events at Trials in 2016 and will be in the mix to do so again. The 100 back in particular is a loaded field with world record holder Regan Smith as well as 2016 Olympians Olivia Smoliga and Kathleen Baker. Add in up-and-comers Phoebe Bacon, Rhyan White and Katharine Berkoff, plus short-course American record holder Ali DeLoof and NCAA champion Beata Nelson, and places in the final much less Tokyo could be at a premium.

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Amy Bilquist. Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

Bilquist has competed against them all. She knows the key is focusing on executing her race plan, no matter what the field does.

“For me, honestly, my 100 back is pretty close to an even split, and I don’t think anyone else in the field is doing that,” she said. “I have to have enough in the back half but trust myself to go out strong in the first half,” she said. “Those girls are getting out faster than I am. I need to go out with them and trust that I can come home. I learned a bit of that in Budapest (in ISL). I know how Beata swims a 200 back and I tried to do her race style and it didn’t work for me. I have to swim my race. I can’t try to swim Regan’s race or Kathleen’s race, that is not my race.”

With that plan, Bilquist is aiming to fulfill a dream. Along the way she has been an inspiring figure in the sport, continuing to be a elite force despite the crushing blows she has been dealt time and time again.

She has plenty of experience swimming for others. But in Omaha, it’s all about that last fight to fulfill a dream for her.

“I have been through a lot and no one expected me to be here. I don’t have a college team. I am swimming for me,” Amy Bilquist said. “I want to finish this.”

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