A swimmer in the swamp
Former Olympian and Gator swimmer now working toward dream of becoming an occupational therapist
By Dorothy Hagmajer
Ever since Anna-Liisa Pold can remember, the water has been her home. It started when her father moved her and her mother from Estonia, a country bordering the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea, to California in 1992. The location was no accident. Her mother OK’d the move on one condition — if he was taking her across the entire world, then he was taking her to a place with water. Not to the middle of the country and not to a desert.
“It didn’t matter if it was December and the pool was unheated and it was outside and it was raining, my mom would take us and throw us in the water,” Pold, a UF Master of Occupational Therapy student, said with a laugh. “Swimming was always a part of me.”
The summer before her junior year of high school Pold realized she could potentially have a future with swimming. When she made the 2008 Beijing Olympic trial cuts for Estonia, she decided she was right. Of course, the Olympic event itself was a nerve-racking, chlorinated blur.
“I remember being very, very nervous,” Pold said. “I didn’t do very well. I was like fourth to last. It (competing in the Olympics) makes me sound way more exciting than I really am.”
The magnitude of what she had competed in — what she had been a part of — didn’t hit her until years later, when it was time for the 2012 London Olympics.
“I was watching some old and current teammates of mine compete and realizing, with all the hype on TV, that I actually had done something to be excited about and to be proud of regardless of how I had performed,” Pold said.
“I was just so young. I was 17. I don’t think I really realized how big of a stage I was on (in the 2008 Olympics). I think I would have been more nervous had I realized it.”
Her second college swimming recruitment trip took her not just to the other side of the coast, but to The Swamp. She attended her first ever football game — and spent four hours cheering in the stands — only to see UF lose by just a few points.
“I just sat down and started crying because I was so upset that we’d lost,” Pold said. “I was like, ‘I don’t even go here yet,’ but I was just so emotionally invested in what was going on already.”
A member of the Gator swim team from 2008-2012, Pold and her teammates won the SEC championship in 2009 and the NCAA championship in 2010.
“My freshman year we won SECs, and we weren’t supposed to win SECs,” she said. “That moment, just coming out of nowhere and kind of exceeding our own expectations as well as everyone else’s, is my absolute favorite moment.”
Now that Pold has left her undergraduate years behind and moved on to pursuing her dream of being an occupational therapist, it’s much harder to find the time to go for a swim. Between work and school, Pold finds herself wishing there were more hours in a day – but wouldn’t give up her goal of being an OT for anything. She always knew she wanted to help people. For Pold, occupational therapy turned out to be the best way to do it.
“I’ve found my passion and I’m not going to deviate from it,” she said.