“I go up and down, to be honest,” she said. “There are days when I kind of wonder, like, ‘Man, this is tough.’ But I come back to . . .”
She paused. There is a lot to consider.
“This is . . . I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I love it.” Her voice grew quiet. “But it’s hard to say I love it when sometimes I hate it.” And she laughed.
Ziegler turns 24 next week, and she will spend her birthday at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha rather than at her apartment or her parents’ home, nearby in Great Falls. The pool at what is now known as CenturyLink Center does not hold the happiest of memories for Ziegler, yet it is where she hopes her rekindled passion for swimming — if that’s what it is — resurfaces, even as she finds herself a changed person, both personally and professionally.
“It’s different from 2008,” said Ray Benecki, her lifelong coach. “She was the favorite. Now, she’s in a different role, which is not necessarily good, not necessarily bad. It just is.”
Four years ago, Ziegler, a Bishop O’Connell High grad, was one of the best distance swimmers in the world, from whom medals were expected at the Beijing Games. This summer, her goals are simpler: Make the U.S. Olympic team in at least one of three freestyle events — the 800, 400 and 200 meters — and enjoy the heck out of London.
Ziegler’s occasionally jarring journey between those two cycles ended right where it started: swimming for Benecki, who runs the Fairfax-based club The Fish. The swimmer and coach endured a difficult 2008 in which Ziegler failed to advance to the finals of either the 400- or 800-meter freestyles in Beijing. They endured Ziegler’s initial foray away from home, living and training in California, away from Benecki for the first time. And they are embracing a reunion that came only in February, as Ziegler committed in earnest to another run at the Olympics.
“There’s no predictions,” Benecki said. “We’re trying to be as relaxed as possible.”
‘It was a long process’
Both Ziegler and Benecki use the word “relaxed” independent of each other. It is a contrast to 2008, Ziegler said. Benecki isn’t keen on comparing the two times. Ziegler is introspective.
“I was not happy for a very long time,” she said. “I was not happy at trials. But it was like: Okay, what are you going to do? Just turn around and quit? Which is what I wanted to do in Beijing, too.
“It was a long process. I talked to Ray and was like, ‘I’m not having fun.’ ‘Well, maybe it’s anxiety. Let’s have fun. Let’s have fun.’ But it’s not easy. There is no switch. It’s not that simple. . . . I tried to pretend like it wasn’t there, and that did not work.”