Colleen O’Neil of Abington
headed to Olympic swim trials
When Weymouth Club swim coach Marshall Goldman first met Colleen O'Neil two years ago, he wasn’t overly impressed by the 5-foot-3 swimmer.
He had just taken over as the head swim coach at the Weymouth Club, and he hadn’t seen any of his new pupils in the pool yet. But as someone who has trained Olympic qualifiers before, he can usually tell right away who the budding stars will be. O’Neil was not one of them.
Now, however, he’s about to chaperone O'Neil to Omaha, Neb., for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. The two are scheduled to leave Wednesday.
“If you look at a lot of the best swimmers, they’re like 6-feet,” said Goldman. “Colleen has small hands, she has small feet and she’s quiet. Looking at all the girls — I wouldn’t have said it was going to be her.”
O’Neil, a rising senior at Abington High, had just been through her fifth swimming coach when she met Goldman. For the most part, she had always driven herself to become a better swimmer.
Her parents, Michael and Patricia , are the “perfect parents for swimming,” according to Goldman, because, “they’re hands-off but supportive,” letting O’Neil do her thing. If she wanted to be the best, she had to go out and make it happen herself.
Four weeks went by before she and Goldman had their first conversation.
“I don’t push them when I’m first getting to know them,” he said. “She was feeling me out and I was feeling her out. It wasn’t until we went to a meet down in Florida when she finally felt comfortable enough to talk to me. That was the first time I was like, ‘OK, wait a minute.’”
What Goldman noticed during their conversation was that O’Neil was more than a short, quiet girl who enjoyed being in the water. As small as her hands and feet were, her desire more than made up for it. She didn’t have the best technique, but after former assistant coach A.J. Vozella noticed her adept breaststroke, Goldman figured there was something to work with.
“I think she had been through so many head coaches that by the time I got there that she had to really had to see if she could trust me,” he said.
“It was just being around her long enough. With her, she’s very focused. She knows what her goals are. So when she got close in Junior Nationals that summer (of 2010), I think that opened her up. And when she made it that summer — that was it.”
By the following summer, O’Neil was hitting her stride. She had shaved her stroke count down from 10 or 11 per lap to five or six. Because she hasn’t grown much, her coaches had to work on other ways to improve her efficiency.
Focusing on stroke count was the first way, something she hadn’t done before. And forcing herself into a tight workout schedule was another.
When school is in session, O’Neil works out six days a week, beginning at 5:15 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays before going to school and returning for a two-hour dry-land session afterward. She does three-hour sessions after school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, a four-hour “cool-down” on Saturdays and, if she can, takes Sundays off.
It’s a lot to ask of the now-17-year-old, but she’s into it.
“If I’m having a bad day at school or a bad day at home, swimming makes me feel a lot better,” she said. “You’re by yourself swimming and working hard and it gets your mind off whatever problems you have. It’s my favorite thing to do.”
The only problem that Goldman couldn’t seem to fix was O’Neil’s confidence. She would make so much progress during workouts, but when it came down to competitions, she was like “a deer in the headlights,” Goldman said.
Last summer, at the preliminaries of the New England Championships, O’Neil was “freaking out because she was seeded next to this girl who always beat her,” Goldman recalled. “I looked at her and yelled at her on the pool deck. I said, ‘You're a better swimmer.’
“Then she went out and beat the girl by five seconds and broke the under-16 record. That night she [found out she] made Olympic trials.”
O’Neil’s 2:19.42 time in the 200 intermediate medley was ground-breaking. It’s when she “actually realized she was on the same level” as some of the fastest swimmers around, she said. And now she has a chance to qualify for the Olympic team, even if it is just that: a chance.
“We’re very proud of where she’s come,” Goldman said.
“But we also realize there will be 100 people competing in that event to make the team and they take two. And of that 100 people, which includes the world-record-holder, the number of people under the age of 20 is about 35 or 40.
“So we have our head stuck in reality and we really just want to see how fast how she can go.”
O’Neil understands what she’s up against. But for once she isn’t afraid. She figures at the very least, it will be a great experience. And when the 2016 Olympic qualifiers come around, that might be her ticket.
“I don't think it’s actually going to happen this year,” she said. “But you never know. I could have an amazing race.”
She’s done it before.
Dedham’s Anne Kaduboski , who graduated from Bentley and had been recently swimming at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Col., under coach Jack Fabian , the head coach of Keene State, has been inching closer to an Olympic qualifying time in the 200-meter butterfly.
She has been hovering around the 2:19 mark, with 2:17 the target if she wants to qualify for the Olympic trials in Omaha.
Kaduboski, a two-time All-American at Bentley, was set to compete in Connecticut this weekend.