OMAHA, Neb. -- Simone Manuel, the defending Olympic women's champion in the 100-meter freestyle, revealed in an emotional news conference Thursday night at the U.S. Olympic swim trials that she was diagnosed with Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) 11 weeks ago and had to take a three-week break from training.
Manuel spoke after finishing ninth in the semifinals of the 100-meter freestyle, missing the final cut by 0.02 seconds.
Manuel, 24, said she did not feel good after the Pro Swim Series in San Antonio, Texas, which took place March 3-7. She went to the doctor in Houston while visiting her family, where she was diagnosed with OTS. At first, Manuel decided to modify her training. But after two weeks she said she felt worse. She would put in a lot of effort, she said, but her body reacted slowly.
"It was one of those bittersweet moments where my body wasn't doing what it was capable of," Manuel said. "I had moments when I didn't want to go to the pool because I knew it would be bad."
That was when, with the advice of her coach, Greg Meehan, and her doctors, Manuel was asked to take a three-week break from swimming.
Manuel said she suffered from insomnia, depression and sore muscles. She'd walk up to the pool to practice and she'd feel "gassed," she said.
"The first sign was increased heart rate at rest," she said. She would try to do basic exercises and she would feel depleted.
"During this process I definitely was depressed," Manuel said. "I isolated myself from my family. My mom would ask me questions on the phone and I would snap at her in ways I typically wouldn't. I had a hard time eating at times. I think the only way I got through it was talking to my loved ones and sports psychologist."
During those three weeks, Manuel said she didn't do basic exercises, adding that she spent time with her family and took a complete break.
Manuel's first day back in the pool was April 17, with less than two months to go for the U.S. Olympic swim trials.
"It was an uphill climb once I got back in the water," said Manuel. "Some days were good, some days weren't great. To sit here and even do what I did and be at this meet was something that I can't take lightly."
Manuel said that to be at the US Olympic trials and to be able to compete was a proud moment for her, considering everything she has been through in 2021.
She said she first started feeling symptoms of OTS in January. Training was mostly going well, she said, but she would have one or two off practices. Slowly, it became more bad days than good, and in March she realized she needed help.
Manuel said she works with a sports psychologist.
"Swimming is one of the hardest sports because you have to be in the water everyday," she said. "There is no offseason. You're pushing your body to maximize your potential.
"I am a hard worker. I don't like missing practice, so to navigate all of that while still thinking of trials is hard."
When asked if the pandemic exacerbated the issue, Manuel said the past year has been really tough on her.
"Being a Black person in America played a part in it," she said. "This last year was brutal. It's not something I can ignore and it was just another factor that can influence you mentally in a draining way."
She said she is already seeing glimpses of her older self, adding that she swam the 100 meters in 53.83 seconds in the Longhorn Elite Classic in Austin on May 20, after only being in the water for 24 days after her break. That, to her, meant hope, she said.
Manuel still has a shot to make it to the Olympic Games with the 50-meter freestyle. She said she is going to "go for it" and is "hopeful."
When asked about the long-term prognosis of OTS and her return, Manuel said that pending her Olympic journey, she will take a couple of months of complete rest to recover, but that she will be back stronger.
"This isn't the last time you're going to see me and this isn't the last time I am going to do something great in the pool," she said, wiping away tears. "And I am confident in that."