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Sports >  Whitworth

Led by Ryan Grady, Whitworth swimming heads to nationals with COVID-19 disappointments in rearview mirror

UPDATED: Sun., March 13, 2022

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

This week, seven Whitworth swimmers will get to do something no one in their classification was able to do in 2020 or 2021: compete at Division III nationals.

Such was the timing of COVID-19’s arrival – and its lingering impact – that both those competitions were canceled. In the interim last year, the Whitworth swim team participated in “virtual” meets throughout the season, trying to generate a sense of competition while adhering to pandemic protocols.

It was hardly ideal.

“It wasn’t the same,” Whitworth swim coach Steve Schadt said. “You compare (your results) with other teams that are doing the same thing at the same time, but you’re really just looking at results. … We made the best of it.”

Back in the pool with other teams this season, Whitworth is sending five swimmers to Indianapolis to compete in a number of individual and medley events starting on Wednesday, and to senior Ryan Grady – who will participate in six of those events – the significance of this competition is tied not just to his own performance, but to that of his since-graduated teammates who didn’t get this chance.

“Honestly, I feel I don’t feel like I deserve it,” Grady said.

It is only by an ironic turn that Grady is participating this year at all. In 2019, he swam at nationals as a sophomore, but he determined he would take a gap year to pursue another dream: participating in the 2020 Olympics.

He went home to Gig Harbor and trained with Jonathan Grady, his younger brother who is now studying engineering at the University of Washington, in Canoe Double.

The craft for the event is not like a canoe someone might take down the Spokane River on a Sunday afternoon.

“I think the closest analogy I can give is that you are in an old station wagon versus a primed Formula-1 racing car,” Grady said. “It’s really narrow, really unstable.”

For a year the Grady brothers trained, and they were gearing up for the Pan-American qualifying in May 2020 when the pandemic broke out, which eventually postponed the Olympics by a year.

At that point, Grady decided it was better to go back and finish his degree, so with two years of eligibility and study remaining – like his brother, Grady is an engineering major – Grady returned to Whitworth.

Schadt was happy to have him back, just as he was supportive of Grady taking the year away in the first place.

“From my perspective, I completely understood. You couldn’t do anything other than support him,” said Schadt, Whitworth’s swimming coach for the last 19 years. “It was an Olympic dream.”

This year, Grady had a banner senior season. He most recently set a Whitworth team record in the 500-yard freestyle at the Feb. 19 Puget Sound Invite, his time of 4:29.62 surpassing former Division III All-American Kevin Wang’s mark of 4:31.44 that he set in 2003.

Grady now holds four individual Whitworth records: the 200 free, the 200 breaststroke, the 200 individual medley and the 500 free.

He also shares team records in three freestyle relays.

His times in the 200 free and the 200 individual medley, as well as the times in the 400 and 800 free team relays, are Northwest Conference records.

This week, Grady is seeded fifth in the men’s 200 individual medley and will also compete in the 200 breaststroke and the 100 breaststroke, as well as three freestyle relays with Jacob Goguen, Finn McClone and Zachary Washburn.

Washburn will also race in the 50 and 100 free; Goguen will compete in the 100 free as well.

Emma Thompson qualified for the 100 backstroke in the women’s meet and will also race in the 200 individual medley and the 200 backstroke.

In all, Whitworth will account for five of the seven NWC swimmers participating at Nationals.

“It’s a special group,” Schadt said. “With COVID and the pandemic and all that, they’ve gone through a lot of adversity. We had a year and a half where things were not normal around here. … It makes it extra special when a group comes together and elevates itself, because it wasn’t just about this year.”

That extra significance is not lost on Grady, who would have exhausted his eligibility last year as so many of his previous teammates did had he not taken a gap year.

So, he said, he is racing for them.

“All of my really closest friends that I came with did not get this,” Grady said. “It’s really sad. It’s really heartbreaking, honestly. You give 25 hours of your life per week for four years to this sport and it doesn’t really come to fruition, and it’s hard.

“I probably think about that every single day. I want to honor them with what I’m trying to do.”

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