Workout Group: Nike Masters Team;
Born: Chichester, England;
Residence: Beaverton, OR.;
Occupation: Business Systems Analyst at Nike, Inc.
For years I have been asked “how long have you been a swimmer?” I can’t count the number of times I always corrected the person, “I’m actually not a swimmer, I’m a water polo player.” That was my response consistently, until two years ago, when I was introduced to open water swimming.
I was born in Chichester, England, in August of 1989. My mum referred to both my sister and myself as “water babies.” We were not the typical babies that had the hysterical tantrum as soon as they pulled into the swimming pool parking lot. I was constantly in the water and loved it. Although a water baby, I never swam competitively. I was part of fun summer swim programs, which is actually how I was first introduced to water polo.
We moved to the states as a family for my dad’s job when I was three years old. It was the summer I turned 12 that I had my first experience with water polo. I remember my first practice with T-Hills water polo club; I was immediately hooked and didn’t look back. My coaches at the time, Sandy Nitta and Scott Brucker, encouraged every athlete to push for their dreams. After I had been playing for about a year, Sandy asked us to set short term and long term goals. To this day I still have the sheets of paper with my goals typed on them. My three long term goals were:
Play Division I Water Polo
Make the national team (*I had both the GBR and USA teams written down because at the time I thought you could play for more than one National Team at the same time)
Play in the Olympics.
I kept these goals taped to my wardrobe door so I could see them every day.
It took me ten years to achieve those goals. But in the summer of 2012 my final goal came to fruition. I competed in the London 2012 Olympic Games for the Great Britain Women’s Water Polo team. It was definitely not an easy road getting there. It was emotionally and mentally taxing, not to mention the physical beating my body was taking. As a team I think there was a mutual consensus that we were over-trained and burned out as well as playing in a very regimented style that did not allow for individuality. Seven weeks prior to the Olympics I partially tore one of my rotator cuff muscles. And 1 week prior to the Olympics I became symptomatic for a labral tear in my right shoulder. I was able to compete thanks to the help of the amazing GB doctors and physiotherapists. Not to mention the support I received from my family throughout my entire journey in getting to the Olympics.
Walking out to the cheers of 100,000 people at the Opening Ceremony is a moment I will never forget. It was the moment when it actually sunk in that I was competing at the Olympics. The moment when it got really real, was walking out for the first game to the applause of a home crowd. It still gives me goose-bumps thinking about it.
Following the Olympics I felt like I had no purpose anymore. I had been working towards a goal for ten years and then once I achieved that goal I didn’t know what my next step would be. I moved back to Oregon to be with my family and was able to coach while I recovered from a pair of shoulder surgeries. Coaching helped keep me focused and I was at least able to stay around the sport I was so passionate about.
In June of 2013 after recovering from my shoulder injury I was invited back to play with the GB team for World Championships in Barcelona. It was during World Championships that I realized I had unfinished business in the sport. I had the opportunity to play for Mataró, a professional team in Spain. It was an incredible experience and I was able to rekindle the love I once had for the sport. I was able to play with freedom and my style of play was not suppressed, instead it was encouraged. Unfortunately, I was only able to play one season because my shoulder was still not fixed. I flew back to the States for yet another pair of shoulder surgeries. It was during my shoulder rehab that I discovered the sport of open water swimming.
My first dabble in open water swimming was the Hagg Lake swim in June of 2014. I knew I would have to practice before the swim so I put on my suit, cap and goggles, and waded through the water with the mud squelching between my toes. The moment I put my face under water and couldn’t see anything I panicked. I came up gasping for breath and told myself to breathe and calm down. After several more attempts something clicked. I suddenly found a calmness and my irrational fear that there was something “Lake Placid-like” lurking beneath the surface (kind of) eased. (That irrational fear might still be there just a tad :))
During the race I realized there was an incredible support network and camaraderie in the swimming community. I met fellow swimmer Gloria Summers who is a US Olympic Trial competitor. She inspires me daily and was my support kayaker for the Portland Bridge Swim (an event I look forward to this summer) as well as my teammate in the relay Bridge Swim. I met Dave and Nancy Radcliff who I look forward to seeing at every race. Dave has made me realize that swimming does not have to be a temporary sport, it can truly be a lifelong enjoyable passion. Although you may be competing against other swimmers, everyone is also supporting each other and are proud of one another’s accomplishments. It truly is a community.
People have asked what my favorite race or swim is, or my most memorable swimming event. I find it difficult to choose. Each event is unique and all equally enjoyable for me. I learn from each swim and after going through 5 shoulder surgeries I don’t take swimming for granted. I even enjoy the training! My fellow “mermaids” (Hana, Cindy, Margot) and I enjoy swimming throughout the summer months in the mornings, watching the sunrise over Portland as we break the surface of the glassy Willamette River.
Now when people ask me “are you a swimmer?” my response is “Yes, I am.” Twenty-seven years old and 17 surgeries later I have found a new passion: open water swimming. It is a passion that I hope to pursue for many years to come.
Lisa Gibson is currently working at Nike Inc. as a business systems analyst. Outside of work and swimming she is working on writing a memoir depicting her Olympic journey. She also has a blog “Silver Linings Blogbook”. She will be adding several new swims in this upcoming season, including swimming the perimeter of Mercer Island in Washington.
Instagram: lgib7 Twitter: @lisagibson89