By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, February 28, 2020
When Mallory Comerford takes the blocks this summer at Olympic Trials in Omaha, she’ll harken back to her first Trials four years ago.
At that meet, Comerford was a still-untested swimmer competing among the giants in the sport, and suffice it to say, the enormity of the event was almost too much for her.
“I was overwhelmed by the event, the other swimmers, everything, but it proved to be a great learning experience for me,” said Comerford, who reached the semifinals in both the 100 and 200 freestyle events.
“That whole experience, however, fueled my fire for swimming. It was there that I really realized that swimming is what I love, and this is what I am meant to do.”
That fire has been burning strong ever since that meet, and Comerford has parlayed her Trials experience into one of the most successful professional swimming careers in the business.
In fact, since 2016 Trials, the recent University of Louisville graduate has won four NCAA titles, been part of three U.S. National Teams, competed on two World and one Pan Pacific championship teams and brought home multiple national and international medals.
Now, with the 2020 Trials just a few months away, Comerford will head to Omaha with much different expectations as she takes a big step toward realizing her childhood dream.
“While 2016 lit my competitive fire, it was 2017 and the years since that confirmed the possibility that I could swim at the Olympics,” she said. “Like most young athletes, I always dreamed of being an Olympian, but at that age, we have no real idea of what it takes to get there.
“The past few years have taught me that the hard work I put in leading up to 2016 and since has put me in a very good position to fulfill my dream of swimming at the Olympics.”
Comerford’s journey to potential Olympian started when she was 7. She followed her older brother, a swimmer, to practice, and with a mom who swam in college, she was destined to excel in the water.
Following a stellar prep career, Comerford landed in Louisville as a freshman in the fall of 2015, and quickly began to hone her craft – ascending the NCAA and national ranks over time.
Comerford said she attributes her continued improvement to her coaches, her own commitment and dedication to wanting to swim faster and Olympic teammate and friend Kelsi Dahlia, who, along with a strong group of post-graduates, pushes her daily to find her best swimmer and competitor.
“Having Kelsi in practice every day to push me – and me, her – has helped make us both better competitors and swimmers,” said Comerford, who hails from Kalamazoo, Mich. “She has been a huge part of my career and continues to be every day. When I was on my first international team, she took me under her wing and has helped me navigate what it all means to be an elite swimmer.
“Knowing what she has accomplished and how much more she still wants and how that drives her every day is a great example for me. Plus, she’s a great friend and teammate.”
With Trials coming up this summer, Comerford said she is in the “grinding” stage of her training, and she feels it every day – always knowing what she’s doing now will make her stronger and faster when it counts most.
She’ll take the next step toward measuring how her training is progressing next weekend when she competes at the TYR Pro Swim Series meet in Des Moines. She plans to swim her usual – 50, 100 and 200 freestyle events as well as the 100 butterfly.
And while the grind of her training is at a very tough stage right now, Comerford says she enjoys every minute of it because every day she’s grateful to be swimming – and getting paid to do it.
That’s something she never thought was a possibility when she was coming up through the ranks.
And having been a part of the past few National Teams and traveled with Team USA to Pan Pacs and World Championships, she said she is loving the friendships she has made and continues to make every time she competes.
“When I first started swimming, it was the relationships I formed with my club teammates that made coming to practice and swimming fun, and that’s still the case today,” she said. “I get to do what I love every day and make a living doing it; not many people get to say that, so I take it very seriously.
“There’s something truly rewarding about setting goals each day in practice and then seeing them come true in practice or at meets and knowing that you were in control of making that happen. I love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
A marketing major at Louisville, Comerford said she envisions staying involved with sports in some capacity whenever she deems it time to walk away from competitive swimming.
She’s contemplating going back to school for her MBA, but for now, she is focused on being the best swimmer and competitor she can be.
And she’ll have a big opportunity to prove that this summer in Omaha.
“I love swimming my individual events, but there is something special about being part of USA Swimming relay teams; I love that part of international meets,” she said. “To be able to swim on one or more relays at the Olympics would be a dream come true for me.
“But I know my events are deep and talented, and nothing is a given. You have to earn your spot on the Olympic team, and that means having several great swims. I am grateful every day for what I get to do, so whatever happens in Omaha, I will still be grateful that I get to do what I love every day.”