Former SRU swimmer dives into role at Olympic team trials
The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials will be staged at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska, June 26-July 3.
June 9, 2016
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Bridgette Rhoades knows what it takes to make a big splash. Not only was she a four-time letter winner in swimming and water polo while attending Slippery Rock University, but she has facilitated national swim meets involving Olympians Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt.
Now the 2005 physical and health education graduate is on deck to help stage the nation's biggest swimming event of the year, the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. Rhoades will assist in event operations of the June 26-July 3 event after being solicited to do so by USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport.
"Trials are a huge endeavor for all the athletes, coaches and meet personnel involved," said Rhoades, who coaches swimming at Longhorn Aquatics, a club team at The University of Texas at Austin. "For a lot of athletes, it is the focus of their swimming goals. For coaches, it's where you want your athletes to shine."
More than 2,000 swimmers will compete in 70 heats at the event, with the lofty goal of earning a spot on the Team USA roster for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 5-21. Only 2 percent of the competitors will make the cut.
While much of the talk surrounding the games thus far has centered around the potential spread of the Zika virus, Rhoades said she hopes the focus returns to the athletic competition and that more Americans take note of swimming.
"For the meet personnel, (the Olympic Games) is where we promote our sport at the highest level," said Rhoades. "Swimming is a sport that is only in the limelight once every four years. But during those years between games, swimming is still going on and the training is just as intense."
While USA Swimming hasn't yet provided her with specifics as to her upcoming meet duties, Rhoades said she expects to be involved with setup and media relations as well as the races themselves.
"I like my events to go off without a hitch," she said. "I want the swimmers to swim fast, have a good time and leave with a positive experience. I want coaches to have success, feel like the meet ran smooth and also leave feeling good about the event. USA Swimming likes things to run as perfectly and smoothly as possible. I will be there to help make sure that happens."
Rhoades said her aquatic experience at SRU helped lay the foundation for her career. An Erie native, Rhoades was a 100 and 200 backstroke specialist at the University, practicing and swimming heats in the Morrow Field House pool.
She credits Andy Waeger, former SRU head swimming coach, and Robert Ogoreuc, a former assistant swimming coach and current assistant professor of physical and health education, with helping her learn how the body works in water; how an athlete's body responds to stresses; managing a classroom; and how to be a fun yet professional teacher.
"Without a doubt, their lessons have helped make me a better coach," she said.
Waeger, who coached Rhoades her junior and senior years, suggested she accept a position as a camp counselor at the University of Texas Swim Camp the summer following her graduation. So impressed with her approach with the athletes, Longhorn Aquatics offered her a coaching position at the conclusion of the five-week camp.
"I came home, packed my stuff into the car and made my way down to Austin," Rhoades said. "I've been here ever since."
Rhoades has coached all varieties of swimmers, including: beginners, high school, national and master's level; coached UT's water polo club team and served as a Red Cross swimming instructor. In 2011, she became a meet director.
"I run all types of events from monthly age-group meets to USA Swimming Junior Nationals, Arena Pro Swim Series to college level meets like the Big 12 Conference Championships," she said. "Next, I'll be taking on the role of data specialist at the 2017 NCAA D1 Women's Swimming and Diving Championship next spring."
Rhoades has come a long away since her days in the SRU pool and as one of the first students to receive the University's aquatics minor.
"I had the opportunity to work with her as a student and a coach," said Ogoreuc, who also coached Rhoades for two years. "She always had passion and love for aquatics. She has taken that passion and turned into a teaching, coaching and aquatics-related career. She has done and phenomenal job and it is exciting to see her prosper.
"I've always shared with my students that there are three types of people: Those who watch things happen, those who wonder what happens and those who make things happen.
"(Bridgette) makes things happen."
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