One of the best female swimmers in Laguna Beach High history, Andrea Reigel (’09) realized her life-long dream when she competed in four events for the UCLA Bruins at the NCAA championships last Thursday through Saturday in Indianapolis. “I’m really happy with how my career ended,” she said, “I feel like I reached my potential in swimming. I have no regrets.”
Her career began when, at age 10, she discovered her love for competitive swimming and gave up soccer to devote herself to becoming the best she could be. “I never lost that love of racing, and that’s why I do it,” she said. “You get to feel that sense of accomplishment.”
By age 13, she knew she wanted to be a college swimmer after her club coach took her team to see the PAC 10 championships in Long Beach. “I just remember it being like, oh my gosh, I want to do that,” she said.
From the beginning, Reigel never lost sight of her dream, dedicating herself to endless grueling hours in the pool. “She’s very self driven,” said her mother Kristine, who admits all those years of early morning practices were tough. “It was great when she got her driver’s license,” she laughed.
Reigel set four individual records and three relay records at Laguna Beach High, drawing the attention of college coaches, including UCLA’s Cyndi Gallagher. When she met the talented teen during a recruiting visit, Reigel told her that she “loved” UCLA. “How could you not want a person like that on your team?” Gallagher asked.
Getting to the pinnacle of college swimming “was a very long process, but I wasn’t fully ready until this year,” Reigel said. “It was nice to feel all that work really paid off in the best way.
Reigel’s performance at the PAC 12 championships earlier this month in Seattle earned her a spot in both the NCAA 200 and 400 individual medley and the 200 backstroke. She admittedly didn’t swim her best race in the 200 IM preliminary on the tournament’s opening day. “I was a little excited and I went out to fast, and then I died,” she said.
She returned to Indiana University’s Natatorium on the next morning and swam a personal best 4:10.51 in the 400 IM preliminary, missing Friday night’s final by .01. Reigel is now second all time in UCLA history in both medley races. She is also among the top eight in both the 100 and 200 backstroke.
Had Reigel made the 400 IM final, she wouldn’t have been available when Gallagher came looking for someone to fill in for a sick member of the 800 freestyle relay team. It was an event that Reigel swam only occasionally in the past and was not one of her strengths, but the senior captain stepped up and accepted the challenge, which came as no surprise to her coach. “She is the ultimate team player,” said Gallagher, who, among many things, will miss Reigel’s “willingness to do anything I ask for the sake of the team.”
With Reigel swimming anchor, she and her three teammates went out and broke the school record with a time of 7:06.23, finishing 13th overall and adding eight points to the Bruins team total. “That was the highlight of the meet for me,” said Reigel. “Just to be able to say that I got to be a UCLA Bruin and a division one athlete, it’s pretty awesome.”
Relaxing at home last Monday, just two days after her final race, Reigel tried to put everything in perspective. “I’m officially retired. It’s pretty crazy,” she said. “After 15 years of swimming, it’s not really going to hit me for a while.”
A Biology major, Reigel plans to pursue a doctorate and a career in conservation biology. And though she’s ready to get on with the next chapter in her life, she hasn’t ruled out becoming a volunteer youth coach some day. “I would love to give back to the sport that gave me so much,” she said. “We’ll see.”