By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, May 4, 2020–In front of a captive audience of nearly 300 Florida Gold Coast swimmers including several South Florida Aquatic Club teammates, Alia Atkinson shared her trials and tribulations in swimming.
The four-time Jamaican Olympian and world short course record holder made a special appearance recently on the Zoom platform for the Florida Gold Coast.
Atkinson, 31, is focusing on her fifth appearance at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, an historic feat for a Jamaican swimmer. She made her first Olympic team at age 15 under the watchful eye of SOFLO CEO and head coach Chris Anderson who has coached her for most of her career.
Atkinson spoke for 30 minutes and then opened it up for a question-and-answer session with Jennifer Gibson of Swim Fort Lauderdale as moderator. She talked about her early years as an age group swimmer and college career at Texas A&M. She started swimming at age 4. She said she liked the feel of the water and “hearing that swish.”
“I know you guys are busy doing something even though you are home and not training with your team,” Atkinson said, referring to the quarantine.
Atkinson stressed the importance of learning something from every swim.
“No matter whether you win or lose, you can find something to learn from that swim,” she said. “I have a lot of failures, and I am still learning. I turned those failures into a learning experience.
“The road is going to be rough but your journey is your journey. You can find little things to get better with every race.
“Swimming is very fickle, you have to be patient. Your body will get stronger. It’s really about being patient and persevering.”
Atkinson admits she came to a crossroads after just missing a medal in the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games. She was eighth at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“From 23rd to fourth put that fire back,” Atkinson said. “I realized I wasn’t finished now. It was a bittersweet moment for me. I now realize I need to swim for another reason.”
Atkinson also touched about signing with her first major sponsor, Speedo, her first world record and competing on the pro circuit around the world.
While swimmers are at home, she suggested they use YouTube as a source to check out elite swimmers and their strokes.
“I have started to understand more about other strokes,” she said. “Break down your strokes and fine tune. Use YouTube as a reference, watch the swimmers and their strokes and then compare your strokes to theirs.”
Atkinson talked about the mental aspects of swimming and how it can be a roller coaster.
“I believe in positive reinforcement,” she said. “Do the little things to change your outlook to positive.
“Have small goals during quarantine,” she told swimmers. “Help yourself so you get excited, help yourself physically and mentally. For me, I focus on the small things, things I can control.”
The Olympics being moved to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic threw everyone for a loop including Atkinson but she is adjusting.
“You cannot change your circumstances, but you can change your mindset,” Atkinson said. “It’s about how mentally tough can you get no matter what the world throws at you.
“I am looking forward to 2021,” Atkinson said. “I’m not sure what the future holds. You guys are all in the same boat as me. Just stay connected to your teammates and coaches.
“Start working on things that you lacked before, be a little ahead of the curve. Even though circumstances may hinder your mental state, there is always a chance to get back up and get tougher. Make your weakness into your strength. This is a great time to do it.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com