By Victoria Sananikone, Copy-Editor
Swimming is a sport that produces athletes of true grit that is so raw and uncultivated, it’s as if they carried this quality straight out of the womb. These athletes are unlike any other; they can persevere through any hardship the world throws at them due to the suffering they endure within their sport. The McKendree University Swimming and Diving program’s new assistant coach, Amanda Siehs, is the optimal example for this phenomenon.
Siehs was not always a swimmer. At the age of nine, she began synchronized swimming, a sport that’s only related to actual swimming in that they both take place in the water.
“One day a friend asked me if I wanted to do a swim clinic with her and it just escalated from there,” Siehs said. “I wanted to get stronger in synchronized swimming, so I started a swim team and I fell in love with it.”
Siehs continued her swimming career and decided that she wanted to pursue the sport at a collegiate level. She was invited to go on recruiting trips to Boise State and the University of Wyoming. Arizona State University was on the table as well; however, before the trip, Siehs became sick and ended up canceling. In the end, she decided to attend Boise State, not knowing at the time that it might not have been the best decision.
“I really enjoyed my recruiting trip to Boise State, but when I got there and started school, I realized that I hated it,” Siehs said. “I stayed there for one year and then I transferred to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee because it was closer to home. After freshman year, I literally called UWM and told them I was coming there. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship.”
Swimming is a sport that constantly demands time and sacrifice, and sometimes this is enough to send an athlete over the edge. If they don’t take care of themselves properly, they are prone to burning out or developing an unhealthy relationship with swimming. This is a concept that not even Siehs has been able to avoid; despite her devotion to the sport, at times, she struggled to uphold her passion for swimming.
“Swimming was a love-hate relationship,” Siehs said. “I had to go to therapy a lot because my anxiety would take over. I think I saw three different sports psychologists. In the end, I knew that having solid practices and swim meets would make everything feel better, so that helped me overcome everything.”
Ever since she started swimming at the age of eleven, Siehs has always wanted to go to Olympic trials. Throughout the years, this has been her motivation for the amount of work that she has invested into the sport. When asked about the process of making her Olympic trial cut, Sieghs explained that it was very grueling and intense.
“My junior year of college, I gave up everything,” Sieghs said. “I went to bed early, I changed my eating habits, and I stopped drinking. I became a shut in, and I actually spiraled into depression because of that. I was able to pull myself out because I knew this is what it would take to make trials.”
Completely shaved and tapered, Siehs believed she was going to make the Olympics trials cut at a meet in California. The term “taper” refers to a period of rest during the swim season, a glorious time where workouts lack high intensity and focus on less yardage along with detail-oriented practices. Siehs was fully rested, but she ended up missing the 50 freestyle cut by one tenth of a second.
Devastated, she was ready to be done. She didn’t want to be there anymore. She was ready to hop on a plane and jet out of LAX, but before that she decided to get her nails done. It was this decision that some may view as divine intervention, but ultimately was the encounter that prompted her to try for her cut one last time.
“A woman sat next to me and asked what brought me to California,” Siehs said. “I told her everything. She told me that I shouldn’t be so quick to give up, and that God had a plan for me. I hate the what-ifs. I texted my coach the next day and asked him if I should swim the race again. He thought it was a good idea because I had nothing left to lose.”
She ended up making her Olympic trials cut in the 50 freestyle two weeks out from the meet that took place in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I actually made the cut on Father’s Day,” Siehs said. “When I got it, it was a huge crying fest with my parents, my team, and my coaches. I was shaking for a solid two hours after that.”
When asked about how she landed a job coaching alongside the legendary Jimmy Tierney, Siehs revealed that she never even knew who he was. After thorough research on Tierney and the NCAA job market, Siehs decided to visit McKendree and immediately felt at home. Although she ended her own swim career after college, Siehs still has a passion for the water, and she couldn’t keep herself away from it.
“I have always loved the pool,” Siehs said. “When I finished my swimming career, I realized that I wanted to help people achieve their dreams in the same way that my coaches have. And its more than just swimming. Its helping with homework, with homesickness, and helping others deal with their struggles.”
In ten years, Siehs sees herself hopefully married, and maybe with a kid, but right now she sees herself with her puppy, placed wherever her coaching job will take her, for swimming is a sport that can take you where you least imagine.
“One of the biggest lessons that swimming has taught me is not to be so hard on myself,” Siehs said. “Every time you get up to race, it’s a new time. Everything that you do is practice for that championship meet. I’ve met my lifelong friends through swimming because it’s one of those sports where you’re in pain the most, and you suffer alongside each other. This sport has made me into a perfectionist. I strive to be the best person I can be in and out of the pool, and it has helped me become a better person in all aspects of my life.”