2017 World Championship team member
3-time SEC champion
Runner-up, 100 butterfly, 2016 NCAAs
Division I Academic All-American of the Year
A podium finish might capture the attention of talent scouts from the Fitter and Faster Swim Tour, but what maintains it is an athlete’s ability to explain exactly how he or she got there – especially in a way that will resonate with developing swimmers.
That’s because natural talent in the water doesn’t necessarily translate to being a great clinician and coach. Fitter & Faster is interested in the ones who learn to apply every tool available to them to become great.
And that’s why 2017 World Championship team member Sarah Gibson fits the bill. She possesses both the intellectual curiosity and perseverance to continue trying until her participants experience a breakthrough.
“My story as an athlete is not one of natural gifts,” the 2017 Texas A&M University graduate says. “My struggle to become the athlete I am today provided me with a better foundation with which to help developing swimmers.”
Sarah breaks down the keys to technical proficiency in a logical progression that is easy for swimmers to follow: “Anything is possible with the precise and targeted application of one’s endeavors. Secondly, speed is a result of good technique that is consistently practiced.”
Although Gibson was a record-setting distance swimmer in her club years and made big improvements between her sophomore and junior year in high school, she wasn’t high on coaches’ recruiting lists.
“Honestly, I can’t blame them,” she says. “I was an average swimmer with a bad medical history (due to a career-threatening rotator cuff tear), with little to recommend me other than my grades and entrance exam scores.”
After getting frustrated by the recruiting process, she took the list of schools in which she was interested to her club coach, who crossed them off by process of elimination (mumbling notes like, “Too fast” or “You’d fall apart under that training style”) until he landed on the San Antonio native’s in-state “safety” school: Texas A&M.
“He looked me in the eye,” she remembers, “and said ‘if you have the potential to be great, Steve Bultman will bring it out.’”
Bring it out, he did, but it wasn’t an overnight kind of thing.
First, she needed to do something about her shoulder and fortunately, the A&M athletic trainers had the answer: “Although the tears were occurring in the shoulder, the injury was a result of a weakened core. By focusing on better total body fitness, I am able to train relatively pain free and still haven’t had the surgery to repair it.”
The learning curve was steep both in the pool and in the classroom.
“The combination of living on my own, returning to full training, doing drylands and lifting weights for the first time ever, and being an honors student in biomedical engineering,” she notes, “was a little much to handle at first.”
After illness kept her off the SEC championship roster her freshman season, she rebounded sophomore year, earning personal best times in the 200, 1000 and 1650 freestyles at the 2015 conference meet and made NCAAs, where she scored points in the 500 free and the 800 free relay.
But the real breakthrough came her junior year. Adding the 100 fly to her repertoire paid off with her first individual SEC title, second place at NCAAs and fifth at the 2016 Olympic Trials.
“During that year, I not only was physically able to perform” she says,” but I also found the self-confidence and serenity in myself that I needed to race. Swimming has, and mostly likely will remain, incredibly mental for me.”
Though she finished just short of the podium at Trials, that experience prepared her for World Championship Trials the following summer.
“Compared to the arena where it was held, the World Championship Trials seemed smaller, which helped ease my nerves a bit. It taught me the importance of swimming well in the preliminaries in order to qualify for finals.”
She punched her ticket to Budapest by placing second in the 100 fly, where she made semifinals.
“Never before had I the experience of being surrounded by the best athletes in my sport alive at this moment,” she says. “It was both inspiring and humbling. I am excited to get back to training, now that I know how far I have still to go. It’s the greatest honor and gravest privilege I’ve known in my life to see my name alongside the stars and stripes, and it’s one I hope to repeat.”
Her work as a Fitter & Faster clinician has also provided a mental boost and much-needed perspective.
“Working with swimmers of all ages lets me relive those stages in my development while simultaneously rediscovering the joy of swimming, which I sometimes worry about forgetting as I have grown more serious about my career.”