2014 National Team Member
3rd Place, 100m Butterfly, 2014 Phillips 66 Nationals
1st Place, 100y Butterfly, 2014 NCAA’s
Silver Medal, 4x100m Freestyle Relay, 2011 World University Games
Felicia Lee has been through the swimming wringer – coaching changes, surgery, and battles with confidence – and emerged a stronger, faster athlete from which others can learn.
Lee went up against nerves and high expectations as an age-group swimmer at North Baltimore Aquatic Club. She recalls a conversation she had with coach Paul Yetter after narrowly missing the 100 fly championship final at the 2006 Summer Nationals. “I let the pressure get the best of me and I cried to Paul that I was a washout and a burnout. He said, ‘I don’t understand how one race can make you think that.’”
In hindsight, she says, “That was a really important lesson for me, learning how to put things in perspective. I let other people’s opinions of my swimming get to me. I know exactly what I need to do. In the end, it’s my swimming career.”
Lee went west for the next phase of her career, signing with Stanford University. She had a solid freshman season, scoring points at the PAC-12 conference meet and NCAAs. But the next fall, she suffered a shoulder injury that jeopardized both her sophomore season and the 2012 Olympic Trials the following summer.
“That was a really hard point in my life,” she says. “I asked my doctor about my chances of getting back to the level I was at – or improving – after surgery. He couldn’t really give me a clear answer. The thought of surgery was scary when the outcome was so unpredictable.”
When she returned to Stanford for junior year, she faced yet another transition. In addition to months of physical therapy, she would have to adjust to a new coach. “I was not sure about my swimming career or the coaching situation at Stanford,” she says.
When Lee met new head coach Greg Meehan, she informed him, “Sorry, I probably won’t be able to come to practices because of all the physical therapy. I can’t swim anyway.” Meehan vetoed that idea. “We’ll come up with a different plan and you will be at every practice,” he told her. “You can’t swim but there are other things you can work on.”
That “thing” was her underwater kicking. “I was barely able to kick past the flags,” she recalls. She split her time between the spin bike and head-lead kicking until she could get her arms back into streamline. “Eventually, he threw in tons of underwaters, and I’d have to kick the same yardage and intervals.”
By the time the 2013 conference championships and NCAAs rolled around, Lee’s shoulder was healthy and her competitive fire had been reignited, thanks to Meehan. She scored points towards Stanford’s team victory at PAC-12s, where she set a school record in the 100 back and achieved new personal bests in the 200 free, 200 back and 100 fly.
“At NCAAs, I made my first ‘A‘ final in the 100 back and I got to be part of all five relays, which was really special to me. I was able to help the team, and it solidified the feeling that ‘I’m back and I’m gonna make some noise.’”
Stanford’s disappointing team finish (8th) at the 2013 NCAAs inspired their meteoric rise to second place one year later. “Greg had us firing on all cylinders, and that rarely happens at NCAAs,” Lee says. “It started with winning the first relay (the 200 free). Maya (di Rado) won her first national championship in the 200 IM. The next day, we won the 200 medley relay. Then Maya won the 400 IM and I won the 100 fly.”
Winning that NCAA title finally allowed Lee to silence her critics and her own self-doubt. “I went into the last wall pretty far behind, then I relied on the underwaters I had been working on so hard the last two years to propel me to the finish. When I turned around and saw my name, I was shocked. You hear for years and years that you’re supposed to win NCAAs, and it gets to you. To finally get my hand on the wall first was a big sigh of relief and such a moment of happiness.” (Blog post of Lee’s IM Advice: The Decathlon of Swimming)
Her 2014 NCAA performance gave her a confidence-boost heading into Summer Nationals. “I knew they were going to take the top three in each event to PanPacs, so I made it my goal to get on my first international team in a long time. When it happened, it was awesome.”
The meet took Lee to Australia, a place she’d always wanted to visit. Alas, it was held outdoors in the Aussie winter. “I got all the rain and all the wind,” she laughs. “But you couldn’t control the external factors. You could only control what you could do. It was a good lesson for the entire team. What use is it complaining about bad conditions? Just get out there and race.”
And race she did. Because PanPac rules allow only two swimmers from the same country in the ‘A’ final, Lee swam the ‘B’ final, which she won in a time that was actually good enough for 7th overall (53.87). “It was a cool experience to win an international heat,” she says.
She closed out 2014 by competing at Short Course World Championships in Doha, Qatar, winning her first international medal (a silver) in the 200 medley relay.
As a Fitter and Faster clinician, Lee is in a position to inspire the next generation of swimmers. In addition to advising them on technique, she wants to help them see the bigger picture.
“Stop and remember what makes swimming fun. You’re not going to remember your times or where you placed. You’re going to remember the people and experiences that got you to where you are. And as someone who’s been through it all, I can tell you that you’re going to hit obstacles along the way. It’s how you come out of them that will determine your success.”