By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Monday, December 3, 2018
Carter Griffin’s earliest experience with swimming happened when he wasn’t even supposed to be in the water.
He had accompanied his mother to his older siblings’ club practice, and when she turned her back to talk to someone, he made his move.
“I was swimming in some of my earliest memories,” he said. “I started swimming on my neighborhood summer club team when I was 4. The summer before that, when I was 3, I went to that club’s practice to watch my older siblings swim.
“My mom lost track of me for a minute and when she found me, I had jumped into the fastest kids’ lane in a onesie with a built-in inner tube and was trying to keep up with them.”
Griffin went on to parlay that early love for the water into a college scholarship to swim at the University of Missouri. Not only did he finish his career there as a multiple All-American, but he earned a spot on the 2015 Pan American team – bringing home silver in the 200 backstroke.
But at the conclusion of his senior year in Columbia, Griffin decided he had done about all he could in the sport and decided to walk away from the water. A few months later, he married his longtime fiancé, Hannah, and the two has spent that past year in wedded bliss.
A nutritional sciences major, Carter stayed in Columbia after graduation and has been managing the Chick-Fil-A in town with the goal of owning his own franchise in a few years.
And even though competitive swimming is in his rear-view mirror these days, he said he still has a strong affection for the sport and it will always hold a dear place in his heart.
“I’ve always loved swimming; there’s something special about the feeling of being in the water,” he said. “When your head is beneath the surface, you’re very much alone. Even when there’s people right next to you, you’re still isolated in a unique and difficult-to-describe way. I’ve always enjoyed that feeling.”
Along with his marriage in 2017, one of the main reasons he said he left the sport at such a young age dealt more with where he was compared to the competition and what he believed he could still accomplish in the water.
But at the core, he was happy with what he had done and was ready to take the next step in his life and post-swimming career.
“I probably wasn’t quite fast enough to make any kind of livable income off of swimming, so that was a factor (in retiring),” he said. “Mostly though, I was just really satisfied with how my career had gone and I was ready to move on from swimming. I was excited about what’s life would hold post-swimming.
“As my career went on, my enjoyment was derived more from the fact that I was good at swimming. Because swimming is an individual sport, I think it’s particularly fun to be a good swimmer, because you get a lot of praise. It’s one of the reasons our sport is so popular, but it’s also the reason a lot of people in our sport have big egos, and I was definitely one of those people for most of my career.”
And while he admits there were definitely times late in his career when it didn’t seem worth it, but looking back he’s very glad that he pushed through and finished his career the way he did.
The discipline of swimming gave him the ability to work hard, and the 50-plus hours he works each week chasing his dream of having his own franchise don’t seem that bad compared to some of the weeks of swimming he had in college.
Despite leaving swimming without having achieved his childhood dream of being an Olympian, Griffin said he still retired knowing that he gave it all he had every day and enjoyed many great things as a result of his commitment to and love for swimming.
“The Olympics were a dream in the sense that I wanted it, but I never thought it was a realistic dream,” he said. “I would say I was happier to get as close as I did than disappointed that I didn’t make it, because being in the top 2 in the country is so hard (especially in the 200 back). I knew it was a long shot, so I never had my hopes set on that too much.
Griffin said he continues to keep an eye on what’s happening in the world of swimming – particularly since good friend and fellow Missouri alum Michael Chadwick continues to compete professionally – and he’s “kicked around the idea of training a bit next year” to try to get a Trials cut for 2020.
But he knows that he’s not going to make a serious comeback in his future – although he does have some advice for up-and-coming swimmers who have future aspirations of being a top swimmer.
“The biggest thing someone can do to get better (at anything, but especially swimming) is to work smarter, and to work really hard at that smarter work,” he said. “I don’t think mindless hard work gets you very far. Pounding yardage doesn’t automatically equal improvement. For me, it was a combination of natural ability or ‘feel’ for the water and a great deal of hard work.
“But it’s not just hard work that does it, because I’ve known a lot of people who worked incredibly hard who didn’t achieve what they would have liked to. I was blessed to have a coach early on in my career – Shawn Smith at the DU Hilltoppers – who helped me understand this, so we focused a lot on technique and there was always a purpose for the hard work we did.”
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