Speedy swimmer shoots for Olympics
Writer Tom Scanlon
Our Olympic swimmer. That’s how some people around Boulder Creek High School are starting to refer to Claire Grover. While that’s more than a bit premature, the school was electrified by the news that the day after her 16th birthday, Claire qualified for the United States Olympic Swim Trials. The week of June 26 she will be in Omaha, Nebraska, attempting to make the Olympic team. She will have to swim faster than she ever has in her life — and that still might not be good enough to make it to Brazil, site of the 2016 games.
Sitting on a shady bench just before lunch hour at BC, Claire was realistic about her chances. Her time of 1:11:4 in the 100-yard breaststroke beat the qualifying time, but she realizes she has a long way to go to be fast enough to make the team.
“I probably need to drop another 5 seconds,” she says, pushing her long blonde hair behind her ear. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it this year, but I’ll be able to do it in the future.”
She is trying not to put pressure on herself in the short term, instead planning for the big picture.
“I’m going just for the experience and to learn and see how far it goes,” the level-headed Claire says. “I’m definitely aiming for the Olympics in 2020.”
At the Western Zone Sectionals in Austin, Texas, Claire finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke finals, but she was really racing against the clock, not opponents.
“I touched the wall, took a breath, looked up (at the clock) and said, ‘Oh my gosh!’” she recalls. “Then I heard my teammates screaming and felt this whole weight come off.”
While she swims for BC during the school year and scored a state championship for her school, the teammates she referred to are with Scottsdale Aquatic Club, where Claire trains once the school season is over. She is one of nine SAC team members who qualified for the Olympic trials.
Kevin Zacher of SAC has been coaching Claire for about a year and a half.
“She’s really gotten better in the last year,” he says. “She’s always been talented, but she started working hard and putting it all together.”
He adds that she has been a pleasure to coach.
“She’s got a great personality and likes to have fun,” he says. “She’s generally smiling and in a good mood.”
That is saying something, as Claire is up at 4 a.m. several times during the week to prepare for SAC workouts that start at 5:05 a.m.
“I’m so used to it,” she says. “I love swimming — I never get tired of it.”
Claire’s mother, Jennifer Reese, notes that Claire started swimming with the Anthem Dolphins when she was 10 years old. She now carpools with a half dozen Anthem kids to SAC.
“I can’t speak highly enough about them,” Jennifer says of SAC. “They’ve been so supportive of her, even outside of the pool.”
Jennifer knows firsthand about the sacrifices a young swimmer makes, as she was a backstroker in high school and for a year at Washington State University, until an injury ended her career.
“Swimming’s in the blood, I guess,” she says.
This is quite an athletic family. Claire’s younger brother, Gabe, 13, was a swimmer until switching his attention, first to golf and later, to lacrosse. He now plays for the North Valley Predators and Arizona Outlaws.
Claire’s great-grandfather was Red Reese, an outstanding basketball player for Washington State University and longtime coach for Eastern Washington University, where Reese Court is named in his honor. This is a tall family, as there are basketball players on both sides.
“Athletics and strong family ties is greatly influencing both Claire and Gabe,” Jennifer notes. “Much of our family time is spent and enjoyed supporting and facilitating athletic pursuits, visiting family in Washington and traveling to the beach as much as possible. The three of us are living life together and excited for new adventures and opportunities.”
This month, the traveling adventure will be to Nebraska for the big swim event. Does Jennifer see herself when she watches her daughter swim?
“She is so much taller than I am; she is about 6-foot-1 and I’m only 5-foot-6,” she says. “But I do remember about a year ago when my parents were visiting and watched her swim, they saw a similarity.”
As a former swimmer, the mother can’t help but analyze her daughter’s swimming.
“She’s very graceful in the water, that graceful power,” she says. “It’s fun to watch. I can read her strokes — that’s the downfall,” she adds with a laugh. “I can tell when she’s getting tired.”
Mostly, though, she just admires the way Claire cuts through the water.
“They’re beautiful strokes, really pretty.”
Tall and graceful in the water and on land, Claire says she will spend part of this summer exploring modeling.
“Last summer, she was offered a (modeling) contract,” Jennifer says. “It kind of got put on hold. She still has that in her mind for the future, but I’m kind of glad it’s on hold. I don’t see how she could manage both.”
If she really wants to make a push for the Olympics, at some point Claire probably will have to push everything else aside.
“She certainly has the talent and ability to do so if that’s what she wants,” says Zacher, her SAC coach. “A lot can happen in three or four years, and she has to decide that’s what she wants to do and do everything she can to make it happen. She has the innate ability to make that happen.”
The plan for this month’s Olympic trials and the rest of the summer, Zacher says, is to get the experience so that in 2020, she can lean on the things she learns this summer to be better prepared.
“That being said,” the coach adds, “anything can happen.”
Jennifer has been impressed by her daughter’s attitude.
“I’d rather be very realistic, so I was glad a couple weeks ago when she said to me, ‘Mom, I don’t know if I can drop the five or six seconds to make the team,’” she says. “I said, ‘That’s OK.’ Do I think she can eventually? Yes. And all of the pressure is off, so now she can just go race.”
Whatever happens this month in Nebraska, Anthem will get to watch this budding superstar bloom.
“When she joined the BC team this year, we knew she would be special,” says Scott Newell, her Anthem coach. He added that while BC graduate Brian Moore made the trials during his second year of college, Claire is the first BC student to make the trials while in high school.
“It will be an exciting next two years,” Newell predicts.
Back on the BC campus, the bell rang for lunch, and soon kids streamed out of classrooms into the courtyard. The end of the school year was near, so close they could almost reach it, but still several grinding weeks away. The kids were thinking and talking about what they would do during the prized summer: sleeping in, doing fun things far away from school, going for trips.
And one tall, athletic student was thinking, “Who knows? Maybe I’ll go to Rio.”