photography by Ted Dayton
One of the greatest prep athletes the Santa Clarita Valley has ever seen is graduating from high school. Saugus High senior Abbey Weitzeil, the fastest American junior swimmer in history in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles, had two major challenges in front of her - college (She committed to the University of California-Berkeley in November.) and the 2016 Rio Olympics. Now she has one.
Weitzeil decided recently to defer her enrollment to Cal with the specific goal in mind - to train for the Olympics. We talked with Weitzeil to reflect on her high school career and look ahead to her future. By next summer, the Saugus resident could be one of the top swimming stars in the world.
Q: Can you talk about the deferment decision and how focused you are on becoming an Olympian?
It's been a goal of mine for the past year or so, a realistic goal of mine considering I'm deferring. I'm putting my whole life kind of on hold for a whole year. Giving up the first year of college is hard, wanting to start that chapter of my life. But I'm putting it on hold to attain my goal. I'm pretty set on it and I'm excited. I'm not driving myself crazy or tunnel-visioning it. I'm going to try and have a normal life outside of it, but when I'm in the pool I'm going to work for it and train for it.
Q: You're closing out a tremendous high school career. What will you remember about it?
"Weitzeil decided recently to defer her enrollment to Cal with the SPECIFIC GOAL in mind - to train for the Olympics."
Starting as a freshman, high school swimming was a bigger deal. It was never my priority, but it was fun. I enjoyed it. Sophomore year, honestly I can't even remember. I rarely remember high school. It all kind of blurs together, but it's been a fun ride to be able to represent Saugus and take some CIF titles, the national high school record last year. It's been a fun ride, and I'm excited to close it out this year. High school swimming is just a fun process.
Q: Has there been somebody in high school competition who has pushed you or been particularly influential?
My high school coach [Vicky Donnelly]. She's been really great. She has compromised with my schedule and [allowed] me to go to certain dual meets and not go to other dual meets. She really pushed me this year to keep swimming high school and have no regrets. Without her it wouldn't be the same.
Q: Do you like pressure?
Everyone performs in a different environment. I don't believe I have one environment that I swim best in because I've performed my best in no-pressure environments and my best in high-pressure environments. A certain type of pressure gets you amped up.
Q: Do you listen to pressure put on you from outsiders?
There comes a point where you just can't think about what people think about you. There will never be a time where everyone agrees with what you're doing. For example, when my deferment was announced, most people were very accepting and congratulatory. And then there are those people who don't think you're doing the right thing. But no matter what anyone says, you have to do what's best for you. I know what's best, and my coach knows me best for swimming. I try not to listen to anyone else. What everyone else thinks you should do or are supposed to be doing, I just kind of do my own thing.
Q: You started competitive swimming at 12 or 13 years old. How did you get so good in such a short amount of time?
There's a combination of things. I believe it's what I was meant to do. It's my talent. I'm just kind of natural in the water - a lot of people have told me. I believe I've had a certain mentality a lot of people don't have in practice and races, especially in races. I believe it's the combination of things all put together.
Q: What is that mentality?
For racing, it's really hard to explain. There's a place you have to go in your mind to push through the pain and overcome the obstacles and pressure and put nervousness aside and overcome all these things that most people or a lot of people aren't able to do.
Q: What do you envision when you hear the word "Rio?"
I can envision myself at the Olympic final - the 100 or 50 free. It's exciting. It makes me want to be there. Anyone who has the goal can see themselves there. That being my goal, it makes me excited. Excited to get to Olympic Trials next year.