By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Over the course of his first five months at the University of Texas, Jack Conger has learned a different way to swim.
Through his intense training, dryland and weight workouts – something he did in high school but not at the same level – Conger is learning to swim “really broken down.”
It’s Coach Eddie Reese’s plan to push the Longhorn freshman hard physically now so that when he competes at the Big 12 and NCAA Championships in February and March, his body will be fresh and ready to swim fast after a good taper.
“So far, so good,” Conger said of his training and season so far this year. “It’s been a hard adjustment for me and really taxing on my body, but I know the uncomfortable condition I’m in now will pay off in the long run.”
As he nears the end of his first season of college swimming – his final dual meet of the season is this weekend at Arizona with Big 12s at the end of February – Conger said it’s been somewhat of an up-and-down experience for him.
He’s lost a few close races being out-touched at the wall, but the culmination of the season – and the support of his teammates and coaches – have given him a lot of confidence as the year has progressed.
And on top of his college swimming experience, Conger said he has had an enjoyable year in the classroom with a strong GPA and some great learning opportunities.
“It’s been a good year so far, and I was really happy with my GPA from the first semester,” Conger added. “This semester has been a little more challenging, but I like that. I like challenging myself in the classroom as well as in the water. It motivates me.”
But Conger’s current ascension in the swimming world wasn’t always on the positive path it is today. Three years ago at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships in Irvine, Calif., he hit a proverbial wall in his swimming and he was doubting his future in the sport.
His coach, Sue Chen, introduced him to fellow backstroker and Olympic Champion Aaron Peirsol, and the two struck up a friendship that continues today.
“He told me when he was an eighth-grader that he wanted to swim in the Olympics, and he took it upon himself to work hard toward that,” Chen said. “But he had a tough meet in Irvine, and I knew speaking with Aaron would help give him some perspective and motivation moving forward.”
Conger said he and Peirsol discussed realistic expectations and progression in the sport, and he left the conversation with a different outlook for the future.
“That conversation changed my whole mentality,” Conger said. “I always looked up to Aaron and what he accomplished, and he’s become a great mentor and friend. We talk every month about things, and he has really given me a clear vision of what I want to accomplish.”
Conger said his journey this season to a successful freshman pool campaign began last summer when he won the 200 backstroke – his first senior-level medal – at World University Games in Kazan, Russia. He added a bronze medal as a member of the 400 medley relay team.
While he said he definitely thought he could medal at the Games, winning was in the back of his mind.
“I went into the meet with an underdog attitude and gave it my best,” Conger said. “It being my first senior international meet was a little daunting, but having swam the previous summer in front of thousands at Olympic Trials definitely prepared me for WUGs.”
Speaking of Trials, Conger said the experience – making the finals of the 200 backstroke, in particular – provided a great learning opportunity for him. It proved to him that if you make the A final, you really do have a shot at making the team.
And although he didn’t hit the times he wanted to go, he left Omaha happy with how the meet went and brimming with confidence about what he could still accomplish moving forward.
“I really tried to treat Trials as just another meet, but the reality of the event is that it’s so much bigger than anything you’re used to as a young swimmer,” Conger said. “Walking out on deck to the cheering of the crowd is amazing, but it can be overwhelming at the same time.
“Trials taught me about swimming in the moment, being focused on the race and not on the environment and just enjoying things. It definitely prepared me better for World University Games and NCAA meets moving forward.”
Now, with just a couple months remaining in his freshman season, Conger said he is focused on upcoming Big 12 Championships and then NCAAs – and helping his team accomplish its own goals and dreams of an NCAA Championship.
“I don’t want to let up; I want to continue to chase my individual and team goals and end my freshman year on a very high note,” Conger said. “It was my goal from the start to come in and lead by example day-in, day-out, and I feel like I’ve done that.
“Working with Eddie and the rest of the coaches – and swimming and training with some of the best in country – has set me up for an even brighter future moving forward. Eddie has a plan for me – it’s one of the reasons I came to Texas to swim – and I have strong belief that it will help me get where I want to go in the sport. He and Sue, together, will always be my coaches. I’ve learned so much from both of them.”