OMAHA, Neb. — Tevyn Waddell knows her final race is looming.
It is just coming a year later than expected.
The Mitchell native enters United States Swimming and Diving Olympic Trials on Sunday with the understanding that it will be the final competitive meet of her career, which is exactly the place she wants to go out.
Waddell intended for the Olympic trials to be the cap of her career last year, but COVID-19 prematurely ended her final collegiate season at the University of Minnesota, and subsequently postponed the 2020 Olympic Games.
An opportunity to swim professionally with the New York Breakers extended the career of the nine-time NCAA All-American and once again made the Olympic trials — which run through June 20 — the perfect end.
Waddell will compete in the 100-meter butterfly, the 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke, but a remarkable effort would be needed to qualify for the Olympics.
She is comfortable with her odds, however, and is prepared for the next challenge, which includes trading a pool and swim cap for a briefcase and courtroom, as she intends to enroll at the University of Nebraska law school in the fall.
“When COVID hit and I had to stop swimming, it was really hard on my mental health,” Waddell said. “I didn’t want to do anything and I was living out my senior year of college in my basement. I think I went through the hardest part of being done with the sport. I thought I was done already and I had that closure. That time reset my mental state and my perspective on the sport.”
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Waddell competed in a handful of professional meets — including one in San Antonio and one in Indianapolis — over the past year and her qualifying times date back to races at Minnesota.
Waddell, 23, enters the trials seeded 40th in the 100 butterfly and would need to cut nearly three seconds of her time of 59.69 seconds to be one of the top-two finishers that qualify for the Olympics. She is also ranked 28th in the 100 backstroke (1 minute, 1.11 seconds) and 15th in the 200 backstroke (2 minutes, 10.78 seconds).
While Waddell would love to qualify for Tokyo, her immediate and realistic goals are to hold her seed and advance to the semifinals. If Waddell is going to lose a race, she sees no shame in falling to women who contend for world records.
“Something I like to think about is, ‘Yeah, that girl beat me, but I went the fastest I could have gone and the only people that beat me are people with a world record,’” Waddell said. “Times are more important to me because I’m not trying to beat the person next to me, I’m trying to beat the clock. That’s harder to do than beating the person next to me.”
Waddell spent the initial stages of the pandemic in Mitchell with a year-long internship lined up through local law firm Morgan Theeler. When she joined the Breakers, Waddell moved back to Minneapolis, where she trained in the morning and had a part-time job in retail.
While already prepared to move onto another career, it gave Waddell an opportunity to see what life would be like without swimming, a sport she pursued since the age of 3. Waddell will continue to swim in order to remain fit, but she is ready for what comes next.
Waddell studied neuroscience at Minnesota and has interest in medical law, but is also intrigued with criminal law and believes law school will determine her path.
“It’s very bittersweet, but I’m excited to move forward with my life and live life beyond swimming,” Waddell said. “I know with a lot of other swimmers, it’s really hard to move past. I just don’t have that feeling. I’m excited to go to law school and start my life.”