The sport of swimming has done a whole lot for University of Findlay junior student-athlete Tim Stollings. Not only was he a recent participant in the United States Olympic Trials due to his success in the water, the work and dedication he has put into the sport has made him a version of a superhero – an Aquaman, if you will – one that uses the benefits he reaps from the pool to better himself in nearly every way imaginable.
In the year leading up to the Olympic Trials early this past June of 2021, Stollings, like every other college athlete across the nation, had his athletic time interrupted. The difference, clearly, for a swimmer, is that one can’t just knock the rust off for their sport in their driveway or backyard. They can’t go outside and toss or shoot a ball; they can’t go to the court and swing a racket. At the risk of stating the obvious, a swimmer needs water; and if it’s not readily accessible, as pools certainly were not during the COVID pandemic, then there’s no sport.
When Stollings’ home state of West Virginia shut down, he spent 12 weeks out of the water. “It terrified me to say the least,” he said. “After that much time off, getting back into the water isn’t smooth.” When he did return to a pool, which he hadn’t been out of for any notable length of time since joining his local swim club at age 11, he felt uncomfortable. In fact, not only did he have to spend nearly the entire following summer in the pool in order to feel at home in the water again, that sense of discomfort stuck in his mind for a while after, causing him uncertainty, and presenting within it a battle for confidence.
Once he arrived at UF for the 2020/2021 fall semester, Stollings again had to spend some time out of the water – luckily, only 10 days; still a significant break – as swim practices wouldn’t start immediately due to the pandemic. “I could only manage to swim [at the Findlay YMCA] four to five times a week for an hour or so at a time. This was a much smaller training load compared to the six to eight practices a week I was used to in a normal, non-COVID, year,” Stollings said. To complicate matters even further, Stollings tested positive for COVID in October, and spent the requisite time in quarantine. “After spending the better part of 10 days recovering out of the water, I then had to spend another week and a half going through COVID protocol to reintroduce myself to swimming. By the end of the semester, I don’t think I had had a full month of training continuously,” Stollings added.
But then things started to take off in much the same way that Stollings does for the 100 butterfly: fast. After a quarantine in late January, the UF team was able to compete in meets again for the first time in nearly a year, and Stollings successfully qualified for the NCAA Championships, where, he confessed, he “surpassed even [his] own expectations” by winning the national title in the 100-yard fly and taking runner-up in the 100-yard backstroke. Then, less than two weeks later, he competed at the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC) championships, where Stollings became a seven-event conference champion, between individual events and relays, for the second year in a row. “The year was absolutely crazy,” he said, “but I wouldn’t have changed a part of it because it all led up to every single memorable moment.”
Perhaps the most memorable series of moments was, in fact, progressing from the literal trials of 2020 to the Olympic Trials of 2021. Stollings said the Trials were “nothing like he’d ever experienced before,” and that he is “beyond happy” with swimming to a three-way tie in the B-final for 10th place and a personal best of 54.06 in the 100 fly. “It truly is one of the most exciting meets on the planet and to have the privilege of swimming in that pool and being a part of such an event was an honor,” Stollings said. He plans to be there again in 2024, but before that, Stollings has some progressing planned as an Oiler student-athlete. Double majoring in sport business strategy and marketing and minoring in finance and coaching keeps him busy enough as a student. Adding classes and studying to his swimming commitments, he said, can easily see him racking up 50 to 60 hours in a week, all told. He said he is kept from being overwhelmed, however, by the understanding faculty at UF. “The professors at UF have been above and beyond what I expected. They are more than understanding when it comes to athletics and are more than willing to help if I have a question about their material. They become your friend and your professor, and it is miles above what I dreamed of having academically in a school,” Stollings said.
Throw in the athletic component of his college career, and Stollings becomes almost unstoppable, utilizing the nearly superhuman attributes that come from half of a lifetime training in swimming. He said that the sport has arguably done just as much for his psyche as it has for his physicality, and subsequently, he is able to fight off any lack of confidence just by swimming. “I’ve learned how to control and regulate my nerves due to swimming, eventually to the point where taking a test for school makes me more nervous than an important meet like NCAAs, Conference, or even the Olympic Trials,” he explained. “It has also given me confidence like I have never had before. When I am having a bad day, for whatever reason, and I dive into the pool for practice, I completely forget about what it was that was bothering me and my mind shuts off, allowing me to just swim.”
Stollings added that, physically, the overall fitness level that swimming affords is, in his opinion, unmatched by any other sport. “My joints,” he said, “particularly my elbows, ankles, knees, and shoulders are hyper-mobile, meaning that my range of motion in those joints is way past the normal range of motion, [which is] actually extremely beneficial in and out of the water. I have widened shoulders, and my lungs are larger than average due to all of the time holding my breath and training my lung capacity.”
While, currently, Stollings is taking a well-earned break from the pool, spending time with family, kayaking, playing golf, and “just enjoying not swimming” for a bit, he knows that very soon he will be back in, training for his junior season at UF. And, even though he’s accomplished so much in so little time as an Oiler athlete, it appears that, in Stollings’ mind, it’s just the beginning for him and the UF team. “Coming into Findlay, my goal was to improve my own ability as an athlete and do my part in putting Findlay on the map for DII swimming,” he explained. “Two years later, because of the amazing ability and knowledge of the coaches, I feel more confident than ever that UF swimming is just getting started.”