Racing for Records
Feb. 19, 2003
For Lafayette junior Chris Grabowski, there is no place like a swimming pool.
Now in his 12th year of swimming, Grabowski has spent countless hours driving to practice, training and competing. With all of those hours through the years, Grabowski said the people he has met have become a second family.
"You meet and compete against so many people in the community of swimming," said the Pottsville, Pa. native. "I can go to a meet and sit on the deck and be at home."
Though Grabowski now feels strongly about swimming, he didn't hit the water until he was nine years old. Instead, he took skiing lessons and skied competitively in the winter and then played tennis in the summer.
Then, one day while fooling around at tennis practice, Grabowski's coach asked him to leave.
"My mom said if I wasn't playing tennis, I needed to do something. So we went to the local pool, they threw me in the water and it turns out I could swim. Things just snowballed from there. If you would have told me then that I would be where I am now, I would have told you that you were nuts."
During that summer, Grabowski's coach told him that he should try to swim year-round to improve. But, Pottsville didn't have a year-round program, so Grabowski went an hour away to Reading to train with a club team. That team was restricted by age, so at 13, Grabowski again needed to find a new place to train. This time he went an hour in the other direction - to Allentown.
"Initially, my parents did all the driving. I had an older brother that used to swim, so when he got his license he did some of the driving. But, even for him to drive six days a week was a lot, so my parents helped out until my senior year of high school when I got my license. I would drive about half the days and they would drive the rest."
Though it required long hours and caused him to give up skiing and miss his proms, Grabowski said the sacrifices were worth it. As a junior at Pottsville Area, Grabowski won the state championship in the 500 free, which he cites as one of his best moments. He has also traveled the country to compete in junior nationals and junior championships.
When it came time for college, Grabowski chose Penn State as his top choice. But, after his freshman year, his coach left to go to Brown and things started to go downhill for Grabowski.
"The current women's coach took over and combined the programs into one," Grabowski said. "I just didn't really feel that it was the right environment and the right atmosphere. It was getting monotonous and I wasn't getting anything out it."
Grabowski decided to transfer, but was looking for a school and a program that he was familiar with. Lafayette turned out to be a perfect fit, since Grabowski trained with Lafayette head coach Jim Dailey while he was swimming with the club team in Allentown.
"We have always had a great relationship," Grabowski said. "When I wanted to transfer, I wanted a swim program that I knew what I was getting myself into and what to expect instead of just blindly going into something. I knew what (Dailey's) style was and the way that he coached. I knew I could benefit from it and do well here."
Dailey said he has seen changes in both Grabowski's ability and attitude.
"Knowing Chris for the past six or seven years, I've seen a significant improvement in his ability to train and compete," Dailey said. "Six years ago, Chris was at the back of the lane screwing around, but now it's much more serious. Now he's still having fun, but he's leading the lane and pushing everyone else to achieve their goals. He has been a great role model."
Once he started swimming this past fall, Grabowski attacked the Lafayette record books, setting new marks in both the 1000 free and 400 IM. He earned Patriot League Swimmer of the Week honors on Feb. 4 and ranks in the Patriot League's top 10 in seven different events.
"Now that I'm here, I'm sort of getting into swimming the way I used to," he said. "I came here and it rejuvenated me. I was able to pick up where I left off in high school and have the success that I wanted initially."
Now that the Leopards have wrapped up their dual meet season with a 5-3 record, Grabowski and the team are concentrating on Patriot League Championships, which will be Feb. 20-22 at Bucknell.
From there, Grabowski said he will resume training with the club team in Allentown over the summer in hopes of qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Trials. After missing the 2000 trials by just one-tenth of a second, Grabowski is determined the second time around.
"It's an outstanding opportunity for Chris," Dailey said. "He went from swimming little meets to competing in Junior Olympics and Sectionals. This would give him the chance to compete at the highest level."