Revitalized Breeja Larson Embraces Return Journey to National Title (VIDEO INTERVIEW)

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Breeja Larson swims to victory in the 100 breast at the 2019 Phillips 66 U.S. National Championships. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

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Breeja Larson stood on the top of the podium and couldn’t stop smiling.

When she started to talk about the journey that led her back to the top, her emotions began to show as she spoke.

Realizing how far she has come since making the 2012 Olympics meant that much to her.

“It’s a big one, honestly. I really, really struggled in 2016. It means a lot. It has been really scary coming back. I think a lot of pros continue swimming and are not sure what is going to happen. You start to wonder when you get a little older, ‘Am I wasting my time? Should I start a career?’ It is a little scary but you have to find that hunger within you. Working the mental part of the sport is a lot more important than the younger kids know. When we get older, we see that a little more clearly.”

Larson won the 100-meter breaststroke in 1:06.78.

Even more impressive was the fact that she took six months off after last year’s nationals — where she took fifth in the 100 breast (1:07.80) — and just started training again in January.

“I took about a six-month break to re-evaluate. Then I kind of got the itch again. They started a pro team in Phoenix. The whole way through and having a lot of mental work in general really helped make this whole transition possible. But it was a tough one for sure. I was still working a desk job in IT recruiting, actually. It wasn’t for me,” she said. “I wanted swimming to be my full-time job, so I quit my job. I tried balancing both, swimming at a local gym from like 9-11 p.m. each night and I was just drowning, trying to start a career in one direction and swim in another.”

Swimming found a new level of importance to Larson.

“Swimming was the most exciting part of my day during that time,” she said. “I never fully understood when other athletes said they just loved being in the water because it is so peaceful. It was always so stressful to me. But having a clear head and being a way for a chunk of time — I remember diving in the water and feeling that peace wash over me. I had heard people say that, but I had never really felt that.

“I really felt it was my calling. After all I have been through, maybe it forced me to take a break, just to come back with a fresh mind and really appreciate it.”

Larson won gold in 2012 on the medley relay and was sixth in the 100 breast in London. She won the national title in both breaststroke events in 2013 before missing the 2016 Olympic team.

After graduating from Texas A&M, Larson had a plethora of live changes to deal with, training as a post-grad and ended up moving to Phoenix.

“It was even more difficult leaving Texas A&M and moving to Phoenix. It felt like I was trying to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “Phoenix Swim Club was a Godsend, so was New York Athletic Club for supporting me this whole way.”

Larson credits her maturity in learning about health and training in a different way, which has helped her sport more of a muscular physique than she did in 2012 or even 2016.

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Breeja Larson; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

“I think (my strength) helps a lot. I have been doing different kinds of training. I am focused on specific weights and sprint training. With really clean eating and knowing more about nutrition has helped a lot,” she said.

With everything she has been through, it all adds up to a stronger physically and stronger mentally Breeja Larson, which is huge heading into an Olympic year.

“Talking through different mental struggles that all athletes go through, and finding special exercises to help get through them has really made a difference,” she said. “It gives me a lot of confidence and gives me excitement. I am excited to go to practice every day.”

An excitement she has been waiting for.

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