Swimmers explain how they came to sport

By Meghan Montemurro

It’s hot and sweaty with sounds of water being sliced into by arms and legs.

Having to sit on the sidelines at your brother and sister’s swim practice was not Meghan Bradley’s idea of fun. At the young age of seven, Bradley decided she would rather be in the pool than be the outcast.

Bradley, a junior in human development and family studies, enjoyed swimming at first because of the improvement she experienced so quickly.

“As it went on I started feeling really good,” Bradley said. “I loved the rewards, after or during the meets, of placing and getting high points and the thought of being good at this.”

While Bradley’s introduction to swimming was different from her teammates, the commitment to the sport and team never wavered.

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Senior Michelle Grandcolas started swimming at four years old and gives all the credit to her mom, who originally put her in swim lessons. By age six, she was on a YMCA swim team after doing so well with her swim lessons. Holding the little blue ribbon in her hand after swimming well was an experience Grandcolas knew she wanted to feel again.

Unlike her teammates, sophomore Ali Keehn took a different route to becoming involved in swimming. Keehn’s grandfather, who was already a member of a country club, persuaded Keehn’s parents to join for the sake of their daughter.

“I started out just doing it for fun in the summer at a country club, and then I really liked it so I started swimming club year round,” Keehn said.

Beginning her swimming career at 12, Jen Ivarson, a freshman in molecular and cellular biology, said she still loves the sport because of the fun she has with her teammates. Bradley echoed Ivarson’s feelings, saying the friends made through swimming create a family because of the five hours of practice each day and all the traveling.

Keehn, a kinesiology major, has enjoyed being around her teammates all the time and becoming close friends with them. Swimming has also helped her outside the pool as well.

“It taught me how to be responsible, and time management skills,” Keehn said. “It taught me a lot.”

All four teammates also see the sport of swimming growing across the country.

Ivarson thinks swimming is becoming more popular with the success and big names in the Olympics. Keehn believes people enjoy both the individual and team facets of swimming and the opportunity to do both in the same sport. Grandcolas thinks people are beginning to see swimming in a different way.

“People are starting to give more credit to swimmers and realizing that it is a hard sport and recognizing that we do a lot of training to get where we are,” Grandcolas said. “People are enjoying watching swimmers and enjoy seeing something different.”

Bradley, who swims the 200- and 400-meter individual medley and 200-meter backstroke, knows it will continue to become popular and is something people desire to do.

Each Illini swimmer has a swim athlete they look up to, famous or not.

Grandcolas and Ivarson admire Olympian Natalie Coughlin, while Keehn said she respects and looks to older swimmers as well as past teammates. Bradley has always looked up to her older sister, Danielle Bradley, 24, because she has inspired her to continue to work through the obstacles she faces, just as her sister did. Teammate Caroline Moore, a senior, is another role model, someone Bradley sees as being both a teammate and a personal motivator.

“She is just amazing because she has also had a big trial she tried to overcome,” Bradley said. “I’ve had my share of problems the past couple of years and I think of her and I think ‘I can do this because she could do it.'”

While these Illinois swimmers love their sport, they do admit there are some elements they are not enthusiastic about.

Ivarson and Keehn said the 6 a.m. practices can be rough, especially when getting in the water.

“It took a couple of weeks to get used to it, but now it’s not a big deal,” Ivarson said.

Grandcolas also said the early morning practices can be hard, along with long yardage in practices because of her shoulder problems.

The lack of a social life is Bradley’s least favorite aspect of swimming due to, of course, the 6 a.m. practice.

“We were talking in the training room and one of the (Illinois) basketball players said they couldn’t do maybe two laps before they were done, and I told them that we do about 200 in a practice,” Bradley said.

Despite the common view of their least favorite parts of swimming, each swimmer had a unique aspect of swimming they most enjoy.

With Illinois’s current home, IMPE, being renovated, the Illini have been forced to have all of their meets on the road.

For Keehn, the traveling is a part of the experience she enjoys because of the opportunity to go places she would not normally have the chance to visit.

Grandcolas said the bonds and friendships she has made on the teams she has been a part of have given her some amazing experiences that will be with her for the rest of her life.

For all of the hard work that is put into the sport of swimming, Bradley enjoys seeing the work that is put in throughout the season finally pay off at the end of the year and in the championships.

Ivarson said she thrives on the atmosphere.

“Races can come down to the final five seconds,” Ivarson said. “The energy there is amazing.”