What’s it like to swim laps in the same pool as the most decorated Olympian of all time? Ask Wyatt Ubellacker ’13 SM ’16—he did just that at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, last month. “Being on deck and seeing Michael Phelps in the same warmup pool—it’s an exciting experience,” he says.
Omaha was Ubellacker’s second Olympic Trials—he first qualified and competed in 2012, finishing just shy of the top 100 in the 50-meter freestyle. This year he qualified for the Trials in three events: the 100-meter freestyle, 50-meter freestyle, and 100-meter butterfly. Ubellacker had his best finish of the Trials in the 50-meter free, claiming 24th place out of 172. But Ubellacker says he’s still got some work to do to before he match the speed of Team USA. “The top two or three people in the events are so much farther ahead of everyone else. The people who end up representing the US—it’s amazing how fast they go,” he says.
While many Trials swimmers dream about the meet their whole life, that wasn’t the case for Ubellacker. He didn’t get serious about the sport until high school and credits some of his progress to a growth spurt. “I grew a half foot between freshman and sophomore year. When the season came, I was way faster than I’ve ever been,” he says. “Then I realized that if I put in a lot of work, I could really be good.”
Despite talent in the sport, swimming didn’t factor into Ubellacker’s college choices—MIT’s strong team was just a bonus. “It was a plus that MIT had a pretty good swim program and a really nice pool,” he says. Ubellacker excelled with MIT, earning spots on the NCAA All American and NEWMAC all conference teams for his performances in both freestyle and butterfly, and qualifying for his first Olympic Trials. “I dropped a lot of time that year. Part of what kept me going was the idea that I’ve got a lot of speed left in me,” he says.
Ubellacker prepped for this year’s trials close to MIT with the Harvard Club Team and along with former teammate Christy Rogers ’14. These days, he’s in search of a new pool and training partner. Post-trials, Ubellacker packed up for California to start a job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. He plans to balance working full time with swimming full time. As for specific goals, he’s just excited to see what’s next. “I still think I can get faster,” he says.