By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, October 12, 2017
Even though he learned to swim as a toddler and competed in summer league before going full-time in the pool as an 8-year-old, it was watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics that Sean Grieshop said cemented his love for swimming.
Now a freshman at California-Berkeley, he made a statement while watching those Games that he continues to work toward each day during practice and at each meet.
He said he was going to be an Olympian someday like Phelps, hopefully in Tokyo in less than 3 years.
“Watching Michael Phelps win his 8 gold medals was truly inspirational,” he said. “Seeing his incredible feat of athletic ability made me want to get in there, even when I was just 9 years old. Michael said that he wanted to change the world of swimming, and I believe he did, especially for me. He helped me realize that the swimming pool is where I wanted to be.”
He took a big step toward realizing his future Olympic dream this past summer when he made his first National Team and competed for the United States at World University Games in Taiwan.
And even though he didn’t medal at WUGs, Grieshop – who finished fifth in the 400 individual medley at 2016 Olympic Trials – said that experience coupled with the confidence he gained since Trials have made him want even more from swimming.
“World University Games was such an unbelievable experience,” he said. “It was my first senior-level international trip, meaning it was my first U.S. National Team trip and that experience was something that I absolutely grew from as an athlete and a person.
“I learned what it was like to live in a village, work with other nations and represent the United States. My race was not what I was hoping it to be; however, I learned so much about myself and the way I approach large races that the next opportunity to race a 400 IM will be much different.”
Grieshop, who hails from El Paso, Texas, but lived most recently in Austin, said he settled down into his swimming lifestyle when he was 11 years old. It was then that he decided it was what he wanted to do and dropped all other sports.
However, his first encounter with water was with him mom, Anne, who wanted him and his younger brothers to be water safe whether or not they ever joined teams down the road.
“She taught a toddler water safety and swim class starting when I was 18 months old, and I was the model,” he said. “I found that even when I was younger, when I got into the water, I felt more comfortable than when I was on land.”
When he was younger, his coaches put him in any and all of the events at meets, and over the years, he slowly began molding his repertoire to longer distance freestyles and individual medley work.
He said he’s convinced his drive to not have a ‘slowest’ stroke led him to specialize in a grueling event like the 400 IM – that and watching Phelps excel in it for so many years.
“Watching Michael’s longevity and historic racing in the 400 IM really has motivated me to be the best 400 IMer that I can be,” he said. “That world record is an amazing time, but it is also a bar or goal that I could see being broken in the future. Being able to watch him race the 400 IM has definitely helped me in my progression as an IMer.”
As far as his recent accomplishments in the event, Grieshop is definitely among good company. At 2016 Trials, he set a new junior world record in the 17-18 age group ranking historically behind Phelps, Tom Dolan and Chase Kalisz – all Olympians and world champions – among U.S. athletes.
He said the confidence that he gained from finishing fifth at Trials took him into his fall season and ultimately Phillips 66 Nationals this summer with a confidence he hadn’t experienced before.
“I was able to gain a lot of knowledge and experience from that race, and I took that to training and that carried into Nationals,” he said. “It was definitely a long year with recruiting trips and the end of high school looming but my coach, Isaac Grombacher, and I were able to put in the work in order to qualify for the World University Games and the U.S. National Team.”
During the college recruiting process, Grieshop said he ultimately chose Cal-Berkeley over his hometown Texas Longhorns because he felt more comfortable there with the team along with the opportunities that Cal has to offer – the school and living in California, in particular.
And then there’s the opportunity to work with coaches Dave Durden and Yuri Sugiayama, who Grieshop said know what it takes to “put people on the Olympic team.”
“I have been able to take lessons from the wins and the losses over my career and grown from each of them,” he said. “That being said, the amount of work to cover in 3 years to be in a position to represent the United States on the Olympic Team is something that I have never experienced, but I am avidly looking forward to.
“The focus, dedication and effort that I will put into the pool, the weight room and in life is going to be challenging but worth it. Yuri Sugiyama and Dave Durden have masterfully crafted a program that allows each swimmer to reach their full potential and that meshed well with my values. I felt as though I fit in with the team here at Cal. This is the place for me.”
Grieshop said he continues to find motivation in and out of the pool to be the best person he can be – setting goals and continuing to push himself forward to achieve his dreams.
“Getting there requires my performance, training and lifestyle to be functioning at the best level that I can get them to,” said Grieshop, who has his first collegiate dual meet this weekend against Utah.
“Along with swimming fast and getting excellent grades, the experiences you get from training and working with everything that you get enables you to grow as a person. Being the best that I can be is what motivates me in and out of the pool.”
And because swimming is still fun for many of the same reasons he enjoyed it as a 10 year old – being around friends or being in the water on a hot summer day – there are many new reasons.
Now that he’s in a college setting, being a part of a team and working for something greater than himself is enjoyable “every second of the day.”
Also competing and giving his everything and demonstrating his abilities have become more and more fun.
“Swimming has taught me to give everything that I have in everything that I do,” he said. “Anything worth having is worth working for. I have found that the harder I work on something, whether it’s a project for school or an IM set in the pool, the greater the outcome.
“This applies in life to more than just athletics. It touches every aspect of my life including my relationships. I have also learned to persevere. When a race doesn’t go the way I expect it to, I have learned to process the pain and disappointment and use my energy to fix the problem.”