Waddell weighs her options after successful collegiate swimming career

University of Minnesota swimmer and Mitchell native Tevyn Waddell competes during the 2020 Big Ten women's Swimming and Diving Championships at the University of Iowa this season. (Walt Middleton Photography)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- If you told Tevyn Waddell in high school the long list of conference and national honors she’d go on to rack up during her four years at the University of Minnesota, she would’ve been skeptical.

“Eh, maybe, but probably not,” the Mitchell native would’ve said.

The awards piled up early and never stopped during an illustrious four seasons, allowing her not to be too upset about her career as a whole even though the COVID-19 outbreak forced a sudden ending.

It prevented Waddell from competing in the NCAA Championships for a fourth straight season, a place she notched three All-America team honors and six honorable mentions. She was coming off podium finishes in the 100-yard butterfly and 200 backstroke at the Big Ten Championships.

“I really can’t be too upset with my career, even though it didn’t end how I wanted it to,” Waddell said. “I did a lot. I exceeded all expectations I had going into it.”


Even with the national honors, school records and being named Big Ten swimmer of the week as a senior on Oct. 30, she points to winning Big Ten freshman of the year as her proudest accomplishment in the pool.

As a freshman, the Mitchell Aquatic Club product won the 100-backstroke and 200-medley relay in a conference-record 1 minute, 35.55 seconds at the Big Ten championships. Waddell was part of three All-America honorable mention relay teams during her first season, too.

She also added being selected a team captain this year alongside her freshman accomplishment, but the consistent success didn’t make the whirlwind 48 hours resulting in the cancelation of the NCAA Championships easier. The senior sat in shock, stone-faced during a team meeting when the Big Ten released its statement.

“My coach was like, ‘Are you OK?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be fine,’ ” Waddell said. “But then I went home and I lost it. I broke down because I had been working so hard for so long for this one moment and it was all stripped away.”

University of Minnesota swimmer and Mitchell native Tevyn Waddell, right, shakes hands with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren after the 2020 Big Ten women's Swimming and Diving Championships hosted at the University of Iowa. (Walt Middleton Photography)

Three weeks later and she’s still struggling with her dream being shut down. The disappointment was two-fold.

Teammate Kate Sullivan called Waddell asking if she heard the Olympics were postponed until 2021. Waddell expected the decision. It didn’t lessen the blow of the 2020 Olympic trials being wiped out for a swimmer that’s eyed the meet since high school.


Despite battling injuries at the end of last season and the start of the summer, she qualified for her second Olympic trials. The adversity she fought through made it more special when she hit the qualifying marks for the 100 butterfly, 100 back and 200 back last summer.

“Now that it’s not happening for another year, I don’t even know the words to describe,” Waddell said. “I was very sad, upset. I had so many mixed emotions because of how many years I’ve put into this one meet getting ready for it.”

She was left looking to formulate a new plan, thinking, “Well, nothing else can go wrong.” The Tokyo Olympics are now set for July 23, 2021, through Aug. 8, but the Olympic trials haven’t been rescheduled yet.

She hasn’t committed to a decision about her future, with plans to talk to the Minnesota coaching staff and her parents to go through her options.

“Training for another year is definitely in the cards because I’ve put all this time in already,” she said.

It’s not her only option. Set to graduate with a degree in neuroscience, Waddell has an internship with Morgan Theeler, a law firm in Mitchell, this summer and plans to attend law school in August 2021 following a gap year.

She originally planned on going to medical school after taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) during the summer heading into her senior year, but experienced a “senior-year crisis.” Waddell didn’t know if she was still interested in that career path, and later found her calling when she joined a research team that integrated neuroscience and law.

She’s entering her internship, and eventually law school, with an open mind, but has thought about medical law, criminal law and neuro law.


“In a perfect world, I would love to do more research-based in the neuro-law world because it’s a very new and up and coming field,” Waddell said.

There’s also a chance she returns to the pool, using her gap year as originally intended in case she made the U.S. national team or decided to continue swimming in the International Swimming League.

She’s doing her best to stay in swimming shape, even if her collegiate career officially came to an end when the NCAA announced winter athletes would not receive an extra two semesters of eligibility. Back in Mitchell with the Minnesota campus closed, Waddell has resorted to running and using the therapy pool at Dakota Physical Therapy.

“I can kind of swim in that,” Waddell said, comparing it to an endless pool. “It’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing.”

She wants to keep her options open during a time in flux, weighing the work she’s put in and her post-swimming life.

“I’m not going to commit to anything just yet because I also realize there is life after swimming,” Wadell said. “And eventually I’ll have to move on.”

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