Mychala Lynch Comes All the Way Back to Win NCAA Swim Title
By Michael Ferraresi and Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
About two years ago, with her mother battling cancer, Mychala Lynch left her college swimming team and returned home to Arizona.
She decided that stepping away from her athletic scholarship was necessary to be by her mom’s side. And she assumed that her swimming career was over.
But last week, three years after her mom’s death, the 23-year-old senior claimed Grand Canyon University’s first national swim title during the NCAA Division II Championships in Texas.
The event capped an emotional past few years for Lynch, who transferred to GCU and retrained her body for the pool after leaving Texas Christian University.
“It was the first time I ever quit something,” said Lynch, who won the 100-yard butterfly in Mansfield, Texas, with a time of 54.37 seconds — missing a national Division II record by less than two-tenths of a second.
“But my mom said I wasn’t quitting,” she said. “My mom said there’s a difference between hating something and wanting to change something for the better. Deep down in my heart, this is what I love to do.”
Lynch said she failed to connect with her coaches and teammates at TCU. She took classes at Chandler-Gilbert Community College and went two years before swimming competitively for GCU for the past two seasons.
Aquatics Director Randy Bellah helped lure Lynch to GCU, which gave her the security of a cozier athletic department much closer to her hometown of Ahwatukee. Lynch also felt drawn to study nursing at GCU after helping her mother through at-home hospice.
“She’s a strong Christian gal, and I felt that all of this wasn’t just a coincidence that it was coming together,” Bellah said.
The road back to the pool was difficult. Lynch is allergic to chlorine, so swimming is challenging enough without the added intensity of training for competitions. Her allergic reaction leads to asthma attacks, so she actually carries an inhaler with her to meets. Lynch said it took several months to get back into swim-shape for GCU.
“Nothing compares to the aerobic workout of swimming,” Lynch said. “I almost died when I first started again. I had the shakes constantly from the lactic acid.”
Lynch’s mother, Gretchen, passed away in 2009 after a two-year bout with colon cancer. The longtime schoolteacher was 53. Lynch swims with her mother’s ring on her finger to feel her mom’s soothing presence as she flies through the pool.
Last week’s nationals also reconnected Lynch with her twin sister, Nicole, a fellow swimmer who competed for Colorado State University, and their father, Michael, who was unable to attend any previous GCU swim events this season.
Lynch said she was moved by her family’s emotional reaction to her victory, but joked she was thrilled that GCU’s first national swim title went to a woman.
She has been an inspiration for others on the Antelope women’s team, according to former teammate Mallory Freeman.
“She’s so positive,” Freeman said. “She goes into practice and gets her work done, and she’s always cheering on someone else.”
Lynch has appealed to the NCAA for an additional year of athletic eligibility based on her mother’s passing, citing the time that her mom’s illness took her away from training. The NCAA has yet to rule on her appeal.
Since she had planned on hanging up her goggles years ago, Lynch said she would be content with last week’s title. But she hopes to have one more shot at competing in college.