A little more than a year ago, after a long list of great accomplishments as a world-class competitive swimmer, Mission Hill’s Bobby Bollier was about to retire from the sport he has loved since he was 6 years old.
Armed with a mechanical-engineering degree he has not been able to put to use because swimming competitively is a full-time commitment, he was ready for the next phase of his life.
But USA Swimming gave him a call. With the World Championships and Pan Am Games taking place in rapid succession, the organization decided not to send one national team to both competitions, but to go with two separate teams. They wanted him to swim his specialty, the 200-meter butterfly, in the Pan Am Games. Bollier’s event took place Tuesday night.
“That conversation was kind of a wakeup call,” said Bollier, who will turn 26 next month, swam for the Kansas City Blazers growing up, went to Pembroke Hill High School and graduated from Stanford in 2012, where he still lives and trains. “It motivated me, and I just had my best year of training ever. It was really exciting going into this meet.”
Then, two weeks ago as he was in final preparations for a peak performance, disaster struck.
“I got pneumonia,” he explained. “I’m healthy now, but still shaken up from that.”
Given the cardiovascular demands of elite swimming, it’s remarkable he was even able to compete, let alone finish third in the morning preliminary in advance of the final at night.
But with the medals on the line, reality hit and his body couldn’t give him one more strong swim. He finished eighth in a field of eight finalists.
Despite all that, you couldn’t take the smile off his face.
“I’m just so glad I got to wear the cap in the evening, just thrilled to be here, thrilled to represent Kansas City, and just the United States of America. I’m always proud to represent this great country and never take it for granted,” said Bollier, who won the 200-meter butterfly at the national championships in 2011 and won a silver medal at the 2011 World University Games.
The adrenaline rush of 8,000 screaming fans giving huge energy at these Pan Am Games has him enthused to try to keep his swimming career going — with the aim of snagging a berth on next year’s Rio Olympic team.
“We were talking as a group, and we all agreed this is one of the best meets to go into leading up to an Olympic year,” said Bollier, a 14-time NCAA All-American and former first-team academic All-American.
“This (Pan Am Games) is probably the closest games that exists in the world to the Olympics — just in terms of the execution, the village, everything about the environment. I will honestly look at this as one of my most treasured meets.”
He added that he thinks he has a realistic chance to make his Olympic dream a reality — but he acknowledges there are some practical concerns to be overcome.
“I’m not going to let this bad result influence me when I know how good my training was,” he said, noting that he trains five hours per day, six days a week.
“I’m going to have to get creative about how to get money to pay for this, but I do have the support of family if I have to. I still enjoy the sport too much to stop right now.”
▪ Zach Garrett, from Wellington, Mo., finished first in Tuesday’s archery qualifying with a score of 673.