Will Grant didn’t know he had it in him.
The 16-year old swimmer was just as surprised as his coach, John McClure, when the time beside his name for the 200-meter backstroke popped up at 2:02.
It wasn’t enough for first — as Josh Artmann edged him by less than two seconds — but it was enough to set a personal best and shock Grant.
“I really don’t know what happened,” said Grant, a junior at Waco High. “Sometimes you get in the water and you just feel it. Coach works with me a lot on technique and stamina.”
Entering the finals of the Speedo Sectional Swimming Championships in Austin, McClure wasn’t sure what Grant was capable of swimming. He had just smoked his heat by three or four seconds in the prelims. During the finals, Grant and Artmann were even until the third 50 meters when Artmann took off. Grant waited. It wasn’t until the last 50 that Grant started surging.
“Last stretch I could see the scoreboard and see what times everyone had,” Grant said. “That’s when I saw how far I was behind so I just put everything else I had into it.”
Not only was this Grant’s best time by far, it also was fast enough to finish under the 2016 qualifying standard for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
McClure shook his head as he thought back to seeing the final time.
“I didn’t think he was going to be that close to the trials cut at that meet,” McClure said. “I figured he’d get it at juniors. I didn’t think he’d get it at regionals. He wasn’t fully rested for that meet at all. That was a big surprise.”
Now, Grant is headed for the 2017 Speedo Junior National Championships in East Meadow, New York at the Nassau County Aquatics Center, where he qualified to compete in the 200-meter backstroke, 400-meter individual medley, 100-meter backstroke and 200-meter individual medley.
And he’s only been back in the pool or a little more than a year.
No sport clicked with Grant until he got in the water when he was 7 years old. It wasn’t until four years later when Grant decided he wanted to swim in college after placing first in a meet.
Everything was going swimmingly until the summer after his eighth grade year.
“I fractured my lumbar from just messing around and being a kid,” Grant said. “I had to sit out. It was a really big bummer.”
He was out of the pool for six months. Out, but never far away.
“It was hard,” Grant said. “I had a lot of extra energy because I wasn’t burning anything. I went stir crazy. I helped out coaching little kids. That was it.”
While that time on the sidelines was anything but enjoyable for Grant, it provided him with two key lessons now as he enters his junior year.
“Teaching the little kids helped because it reinforces the fundamentals of technique,” Grant said. “When you’re teaching it, you’re concentrating on how it looks instead of swimming it. And now I’m looking into a career in medicine, orthopedics actually. It kind of piqued my interest when I injured my back.”
Once Grant was cleared to get back in the pool, it was anything but easy. He was out of shape. It took Grant more than a month to feel like his old self in the water.
Grant’s first day back in the water was McClure’s first day with the Heart of Texas Aquatics Team.
After eight or nine months back, Grant competed at the TXLA Texas Open in Austin back in June, less than a month before sectionals in Austin.
The goal was for Grant to simply see what he could do. He clocked in at 2:07.
“He blasted a best time, and we weren’t really expecting that either,” McClure said. “For sectionals we have what we call taper, which is where we pick specific championship meets at the end of the year that we’re really going for those meets, when we get there we start to back off on the yardage and the intensity the week before so that they feel rested. We definitely did not see a 2:02 coming. I thought he’d be more of a 2:04, 2:05. It was pretty awesome.”
The 2020 Olympic trial standards won’t be announced for a while. At that time, Grant will be in college. His future is whatever he wants it to be.
“As soon as they release the 2020 cuts, I’m pretty sure he’ll get that right away,” McClure said. “I’m sure he’d be close to getting a second swim, maybe making finals at trials. That’s way out there so who knows. I would have to think he’s going to be for sure sub-two minutes. He will maybe be in the 1:55, 1:56 range by then.”
But Grant isn’t looking that far ahead just yet. He is getting ready to start class at Waco High, where history and science are his favorite subjects.
The Olympics aren’t his dream — yet.
“Hopefully I can swim on the next level which is college swimming,” Grant said. “I want to keep improving. We’ll see where I go from there.”