Cal’s Amy Bilquist: Strong Role Model Pushing ‘Ultimate Limits’

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Photo Courtesy: Kelley Cox/klc fotos

Amy Bilquist has been a strong female athlete at the nation’s highest level, balancing that strength with femininity, something she thinks has been lost in the perception of athletics.

The Cal senior is studying marketing and advertising, looking to do something about the misconception that female athletes are either strong or feminine — not both.

“I want to do something showing the female body in a different light, strong and feminine,” Bilquist told Swimming World. “I don’t want swimsuit companies to have models in ads instead of real swimmers.”

Until that time where she can help invoke change, Bilquist is being a role model in that area herself — and she is determined to use that strength to help Cal aim for a Pac-12 and NCAA championship.

“You want to push your ultimate limits. The talent on this team is immense. I think we get looked at as the underdog. But I think if we can perform to our abilities, we can rewrite a couple of record books,” she said. “We always think we can get better. That is why this team is so amazing. I don’t think there is a ceiling.”

Bilquist has been a part of two runner-up teams for Cal the past two years and the 6-foot-2 senior from Carmel, Indiana, is poised for a big finish.

“It is honestly insane to think it is senior year,” she said. “We had our senior banquet and we remember freshman year so distinctly. Freshman year takes awhile then you blink and it is senior year. This it the team that clicks the best. I couldn’t ask for a better team going into the last stretch.”

The chance of going out with her best finish has Bilquist feeling the pressure, in a good way.

“I am nervous, but it is a good nervous,” she said. “As a freshman, you come in with goals and this is my last shot at a couple of those. I have faced a lot of those bumps in the road. I want to get my hand on the wall and accomplish what I have been trying to for four years.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Bilquist was a three-time All-American as a freshman, finishing fourth in the 100 back, fifth in the 200 back and anchored the 200 free relay national championship.

It is tough to go up from there, especially with injuries and some other “bumps” getting in the way. As a sophomore, she was in the NCAA “B” final in her events. Last year, she returned to the “A” final, finishing eighth in the 100 free to go along with her ninth in the 50 free and 10th in the 100 back.

“I have been left wanting more every season. Personally, I feel like I have never gotten a full season without a bump in the road. So going into this last one, I want to learn from those bumps. If I hadn’t faced those bumps, I wouldn’t have become as mature of an athlete that I am today,” she said. “Every year having to sit out part of the season makes me realize how much I cherish the sport.”

Relays help her cherish the sport more than any other aspect of a swim meet. Even in her struggles individually, Bilquist has been able to put together some dynamite relay splits. Last year, she was a part of Cal’s four runner-up relay finishes.

“I definitely think it gave me a boost. My favorite part was splitting a 20.9 on the end of the medley relay (last year), knowing that was still in me,” she said. “I would rather show up for a relay for my team. I have had the best times in the NCAA for the relays. Getting up on the blocks with three best friends knowing they are behind you.”

The 20.9 split was specifically monumental to a swimmer worried her best days were behind her.

“It was sort of a relief,” Bilquist said. “Going into swimming, you are told you might plateau. That gave me confidence that it is still in there and I hadn’t peaked. All I remember is Noemie Thomas caching the girl and that I need to seal the deal.”

Bilquist returns with Abbey Weitzeil, Maddie Murphy and Katie McLaughlin, all All-Americans. But without NCAA champion Kathleen Baker, who turned pro this year, the Bears are definitely feeling like underdogs behind two-time defending champion Stanford.

“It is a bit of a Cinderella story,” Bilquist said. “Freshman year we were the favorites to win and it didn’t happen. We didn’t know if we would ever get that chance today. Having a shot at it but being the underdog is (great). For us, things can only go right in this scenario. As a senior, I would much rather be clawing my way to the top. The climb is the most fun. It is really symbolic to what our entire journey has been. There hasn’t been a day we can relax, It is the grind, but it is a beautiful grind.

“Yes we miss Kathleen, but as a class, we have been through so much. It is just a celebration for our journey and put everything on the line one last time.”

It starts at Pac-12s.

“Last year, Pac-12s was amazing and the team had a lot of momentum going into NCAAs. That is exactly what we need to do again. It is the last time that the whole team is going to be together. Our class’s legacy more than anything is a graceful perseverance. Knowing that we have all been through nothing that we want to go through. But we went through it together. The team lifted us. We can get through it,” she said. “We need to just let it rip.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Check out more Pac-12 coverage here.

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Coach Wayne McCauley
3 years ago

We used to sit around and laugh at the skinny no shoulders never been athletic women swim suit models.
The men’s suit models were usually close enough, but the women models were absurd. Bet they didn’t even know how to put the race suits on!

Women’s swimming has produced some amazing beautiful swimmers.

Hope Amy has some great meets!

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3 years ago

This blog was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I
have found something that helped me. Kudos!

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Chuck Kroll
3 years ago

Amy, this is not a new issue…In the late ’80’s I challenged a marketing exec from one of the major swim suit companies to use real swimmers in their catalogues and campaigns. His response was there was not enough ‘good looking’ swimmers to which I said something like ‘you have to be kidding, right?’ He wasn’t but that same company he worked for used the tag line…’We use exclusively Olympic swimmers in our advertising’ some years later. Some may guess the company, some even the individual I am speaking of, however, who and what company are really not important since it seems this company and the others that have risen to the top of line in competitive swim wear in recent years have not completely learned what swimmers, et al, really want to see. This also includes those who are not competitive swimmers but are health and fitness ‘swimmers’ or divers, or polo players, or synchro swimmers or, or, or…Let’s use ‘real’ AQUALETES when marketing on every level not just model and/or actor wannabes…Just sayin.’