Second chances don't always come along in life. Gulsah Gunenc is one of the lucky ones.
The former Ohio State swimmer has had one crack at the Olympics. It didn't go so well. The Edirne, Turkey, native swam at the 2004 Athens Summer Games while a member of the Ohio State squad, placing 31st in the 200-meter butterfly with a time of 2:20.17 and ending 35th in the 100 fly in 1:04.30.
One of the main reasons was an illness that left Gunenc unable to swim at her best.
"I got really sick when I was there," she said of her time in Athens. "The doctors told me almost not to compete, but I was like, ‘No, I made it this far.' I wanted to compete. So I didn't perform well at all, but at least I was there."
Fast forward four more years and Gunenc gets her second chance. She spent her three seasons at Ohio State following the Olympic bid rewriting the Turkish national team's record book while having a standout career for the Buckeyes.
She set the Turkish record at the 2005 Mediterranean Games in the 200 butterfly, then broke that later that year at the World University Games. She broke her own national records in the butterfly events at the 2006 FINA Short Course Championships, finishing the 100 in 1:01.06 and the 200 in 2:11.96.
That same year, she became an All-American for Ohio State when she finished the 200-yard – NCAA swims are done in yards – butterfly at the NCAA championships in 1:57.78 to finish seventh in the country.
And finally, after she exhausted her eligibility after the 2007 season, she spent the next year taking classes and training at Ohio State, finally qualifying for the 200 fly by finishing in 2:15.32 at early April's Toyota Grand Prix.
"The reason I stayed one more extra year after I was done with my four years of eligibility was so I can make the Olympics for a second time and actually experience the Olympics," she said.
This trip, which will occur in August when the Olympics begin on the 8th, will have special meaning as well because it will represent the final race of Gunenc's career. After graduating Sunday to finish up an Ohio State academic career that included Academic All-Big Ten honors and three majors in the field of economics, Gunenc's race in Beijing in August will serve as the final of her career. Afterward, she will attend the University of California-Berkeley for graduate school.
"I'm working really hard, so hopefully I do my best time and finish because it's going to be the last race of my career," she said. "I'm going to stop swimming right there. It's going to be kind of sad, but it's going to be a good way to finish it."
She can only hope it's better than the last trip to the Olympiad. As a competitor, the trip to Athens was nothing like she had hoped.
"Experience wise, the Olympics, I can't compare it to anything," she said. "Swimming-wise, I enjoyed other meets more than the Olympics because when you swim well you enjoy and when you do well you enjoy it more."
Gunenc described the feeling of swimming for her country as "really cool." The thoughtful swimmer from Turkey was unable to conjure up any special memories from her first go-round at the games, save for one obvious one that ranked at the top of the list.
"We didn't see the closing ceremony when we were there because swimming starts at the beginning, but the Opening Ceremonies were wonderful," Gunenc said. "I had a race the next morning, but I really wanted to remember what it's like to be in the Olympics because I didn't know if I was going to make it a second time or not."
What's next for Gunenc on the horizon after the final swim? Well, there's grad school, but even Gunenc is unsure what life will be like away from the pool. To hear her tell it, it's the time spent training at Ohio State that helped her finish her rigorous degree program.
"I think swimming gets you more organized because you have a limited amount of time to do stuff so you get it done right away," she said. "When I take a couple of days off, I'm like, ‘What am I going to do?' I'm not organized at all when I don't swim, so I'm kind of scared for the future."