For Bethany Galat, Olympic Postponement Adds Surprise Year to Career

bethany-galat-
Bethany Galat has committed herself to another year of swimming fro the 2021 Olympics. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Bethany Galat’s adventure through the month of March included the typically atypical craziness that became sadly commonplace for swimmers – of hastily booked but heavily discounted flights, of scrambling to get equipment needed to work out from home, of getting shooed away from a pool by the police in the name of social distancing.

But Galat carried herself through those moments with a feeling that differed from many peers. She entered the spring sure that it would be her final one as a professional swimmer. A World Championships silver medalist in 2017 in the 200 breaststroke and a 2018 graduate from Texas A&M, Galat had positioned the 2020 Trials and possibly Olympics as her last swimming hurrah before retirement.

When the coronavirus outbreak necessitated postponing the games to 2021, the weight of the plans Galat had queued up for after the Games came crashing down. It took a while for the 24-year-old to come to terms with what it all meant for her future.

“I personally was very stressed about staying in shape,” Galat said this week. “Everyone was kind of going through different emotions. Some people, it was thinking that this summer is probably going to be really different and it’s not going to be normal and they were starting to accept that.

“It took me a little longer to accept that, and I’m still accepting it a little bit as we speak, but I’m in a lot better place now.”

The scramble

Galat’s travels after COVID-19 wreaked its schedule havoc have led her back to near the same place. The native of Mishawaka, Indiana, was in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center when the dominoes of cancellations and stay-at-home restrictions started to fall. After a couple of days, she retreated (via a surprisingly cheap flight, she said), to College Station, thinking she’d be able to still train with Aggie Swim Club. That worked for a few days, until she got a call that the state of Texas would be shutting all facilities, including pools, leading to a burst of texts to empty out her locker of any exercise equipment she needed within an hour.

Even with a couple of weeks of rest, it remains a blur to Galat, the time passing both too slow and too fast to account for.

bethany-galat-

Bethany Galat with the D.C. Trident in the ISL. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I’ve never experienced anything like this before, emotionally and mentally and physically,” she said. “Overall I’m grateful for the challenges because I’m learning a lot of about myself, my teammates, my family.”

She and Aggies teammates huddled at home to strategize, which led to a couple of dryland sessions, some scouting trips to find open pools across the Lone Star State and one 20-yard pool that they identified before cops put a stop to a workout.

Eventually, she made her way back to Colorado, where her parents and two sisters live. She’s holed up there for the time being, trying to lift weights or run or play tennis, though the hour or so of physical activity a day is no substitute for the 20-plus hours a week she is used to logging.

There’s also the emotional aspect. Galat was agonizingly close to the 2016 Olympics, finishing third at Olympic Trials in both the 400 individual medley and 200 breaststroke and sixth in the 200 IM. But she viewed the meet as her coming-out party, an appetizer for four years later.

She won the 400 IM and 200 breast in at the U.S. Open that winter and parlayed it into silver at Worlds in 2017, the first active Texas A&M swimmer to win a Worlds or Olympics medal. She added 200 breast silver at the Short-Course World Championships in 2018 and the 2019 Pan American Games as well as competing for the D.C. Trident in the International Swimming League.

That level of success, coupled with career aspirations as a food science major at Texas A&M, made Galat comfortable saying that 2020 would be her final season. But the postponement forced her to recalibrate, and while she’s come to peace with the changes, the process to get there wasn’t easy.

“I was pretty sure I was going to miss swimming, but I thought it was time for me to be done, just where I’m at emotionally and mentally,” Galat said. “But I think I would be really happy to commit another year because after everything that happened, I think it would be even a greater accomplishment to make the team after all this adversity, and even if I didn’t make the team, it would be an equal amount of gratitude to go through another year with all this adversity. I think I will learn a lot of about dedication and commitment.”

The acceptance

Galat didn’t need to leave her house in College Station to gain perspective on her predicament. Two of her roommates – fellow breaststrokers Anna Belousova and Esther Gonzalez – were planning on 2020 as their final season as well. Belousova, a native of Russia who traveled back home during the crisis, has grad school lined up. Gonzalez, from Mexico, was accepted to a physical therapy program.

bethany-galat-texas-am-pre-race-sec-championships

Bethany Galat at Texas A&M. Photo Courtesy: Thomas Campbell/Texas A&M Athletics

Galat knows plenty of athletes who must defer either school or jobs to get to 2021, and her housemates are managing that while navigating immigration situations. It all contextualizes her feelings.

“Everyone has a little bit of a different story, but overall I’ve found a lot of comfort in, from what I’ve seen in my teammates and other USA teammates, how quick they were to commit to another year,” she said. “That showed me it’s hard to make major decisions, and it took me a little bit of time to wrap my mind around to deciding to commit another year.”

Galat’s decisions had to weigh a variety of factors. She speaks passionately about her studies in food science wants to pursue retail sales at a big company like H-E-B, Texas’ largest supermarket chain. The postponement brought decisions about renewing leases, about if she’d want to continue training at A&M, about if she wanted to commit to another ISL season.

There’s also an emotional aspect. The American breaststroke field is loaded, paced by 100 breast world record-holder Lilly King. Galat was fourth among Americans in 2019 in the 100 and third in the 200, her best time of 2:21.84 the sixth-fastest in the world. But five Americans placed in the top 31 of the world in the 100 breast in 2019 and six made the top 17 in the 200.

To commit to another year, to another last year, would mean doing so for the sake of the process, not the results. It would require faith, with no guarantee about what the pandemic will look like next spring.

Galat has taken time processing all of that. And she’s achieved a level of peace with the changes as she uses this enforced rest period to recharge for the drive toward Tokyo.

“I’m feeling more confident that I’ll be able to build up to where I had been before all this happened,” she said. “I feel good about that. I’m gaining more confidence. The more I talk through my emotions and talk to reliable sources, I think I just have to do my best to be at my best, make sure every day I have anchors in my schedule that I make sure I do every day. That’s been really healthy for me. …

“Where I’m at now, I’m OK with swimming another year. I can’t say this positively yet, because I obviously don’t know, but I have my whole life ahead of me, so I have time.”

1 comment

  1. Holly Vinezeano

    You will find the power to keep shining bright