Katie Meili CC ’13 could have swum in the 2012 Summer Olympics. But 20 days before the Olympic Trials, on June 1, 2012, the record-breaking Columbia swimmer broke her hand during a swim meet warm-up.
She opted for surgery over a cast so she could get back in the water in only a few days. And while she didn’t make it to the Olympics, and considers the injury her most trying moment, she often reminds herself how lucky she was just to compete.
In fact, despite the setback, Meili plans to pursue professional swimming after graduation. This summer, she will compete to join U.S.A. Swimming, the national team. If she makes it, she might have another shot at the Olympics.
“It’s hard to think about the Olympics because it’s just a long time and a lot of things can happen between now and then,” Meili said. “But I’m definitely training in the summer. Once you start swimming, you’re in it for the long run.”
Raised in small-town, conservative Colleyville, Texas, Meili started swimming competitively at 8. She followed in the footsteps of her older sister, who, she said, “would never let me win.” With passions for art and theatre, Meili always wanted to move to the “big city.” And since arriving at the College, she hasn’t lost momentum in the pool.
This academic year alone, Meili won first place in the Ivy League Championships in three events: the 100-yard breaststroke, the 200-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard Individual Medley, and placed third National Collegiate Athletic Association for the 100-yard breast stroke and competed in the Olympic Trials and U.S. Open. Her 200-yard Individual Medley record outpaces Cristina Teuscher CC ’00, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and the University’s best-known swimmer.
Meili loves to win, loves to race and is willing to make sacrifices to be successful. And yet she is so gracious and even-keeled that you might never suspect her competitive nature until you see her in the pool.
“People have told me that they have never seen someone as competitive as I am,” said Meili. "I often go 40 to 50 days at a time without taking a day off… As you get older, you learn to push your body in different ways. You can push your limits and see how far you can go.”
That’s not to say that everything has been smooth sailing. Waking up for 6 a.m. practice every day, committing time to train and travel for meets and taking five or six courses at a time was exhausting, Meili said. But she attributes most of her success to her coaches and teammates.
“I always say that if I hadn’t come to Columbia, I wouldn’t have gotten this good at swimming,” she said. “It was definitely hard when all your friends are going out, and they can stay up as late as they want, and they can eat whatever they want… when I had to go to bed because I was exhausted or I had practice the next morning... It's a hard sacrifice when you are going through it, but it's so worth it in the end.”
- Grace Lee PH ’14