Meet Katie Meili. Meili, a Columbia College alumna and competitive swimmer hails from Colleyville, Texas. This past summer, Meili won a gold medal for swimming the preliminary heats of the 4 x 100 relay and a bronze medal in the 100 meter breast stroke at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. We sat down with her to learn more about her background in swimming and how her time at Columbia has influenced her athletic career.
How did you originally get involved with swimming?
I started competitive swimming when I was 8. My older sister, Maureen, and I both did gymnastics but she had a bad ankle injury when she was 13 and I was 8. Her doctor suggested swimming for physical therapy and since I wanted to do everything my sister did, my mom signed us both up for the summer league swim team. The rest is history!
Did your time at Columbia impact how you swim?
Absolutely! I always say that I would not be the swimmer I am if I had not attended Columbia. Columbia made me into the person I am and I so loved and appreciated my time there. Swimming at Columbia set me on the path I needed to be on to get to where I am now. I met all the people I needed to meet, especially my coaches at Columbia – Diana Caskey and Michael Sabala, and I interacted with the sport the way I needed to – with joy and appreciation. My time at Columbia didn’t just impact the way I swim now, it created everything!
How do you clear your mind/focus before you compete in a race?
Before I race, I like my mind to be completely clear. When I step up on the blocks, I tell myself that all the work has been done and that my body knows how to accomplish the task at hand. I get to turn my brain off and race completely free. It’s an amazing feeling!
What were you most excited about getting ready for Rio? What was life in the Olympic Village and the Games Like?
I was most excited for small things that hold a big meaning to me personally. Wearing my Ralph Lauren opening ceremonies outfit (something I have wanted to have since I was a young girl); getting my American flag cap with my name on it; swimming in a pool with the Olympic Rings hanging above it. Those are the things that make you take a step back and think, “Wow, I actually made it here”, and those small moments are my favorite.
Life in the Olympic Village was amazing! I loved seeing and meeting people from all over the world, and getting to see a glimpse of their cultures and customs. To me, the Olympics are about the World coming together in a peaceful way to celebrate our similarities and our differences as human beings. It’s a beautiful event that holds significance in every culture in the World. It’s unique and important and I could feel that power everywhere.
How did you react/feel upon realizing you medaled in two different events?
I was so full of joy! I always dreamed of going to the Olympics and winning a medal but I never actually thought it would happen. It’s impossible to put in words what it feels like to have a dream of that magnitude come true. I smile every time I hold my medals in my hands. They mean so much to me… hard work and sacrifice, but also all the people that helped me along the way (and there are SO many). Those medals belong to my family, friends, teammates, coaches, and supporters just as much as they belong to me.
Do you think you will be swimming in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?
I have not made a final decision on Tokyo yet. Right now, I’m just enjoying the experience from Rio!
What was the greatest challenge you faced as a swimmer?
When you’re trying to be the best in the World at something by the smallest of margins, you have to have an extreme sense on non-complacency. Every day in practice, you have to want to be better, do more, try harder, etc. Even when you do something great, you have to have the attitude that it’s not quite good enough and that you still need to improve. That kind of attitude and approach is necessary for any type of success, but too much of it can get exhausting and can be detrimental. For me, finding the right balance to use that attitude to my advantage was the greatest challenge I faced swimming at this level.
What advice would you give to current student athletes?
Stay focused and if you have a dream or a goal, even if it seems out of reach, don’t be afraid to chase it. Ask for help along the way!
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