Katie Grimes, a two-time Olympian at 17, is U.S. swimming’s rising new star

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By Calvin S. Nelson

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — With their 12-year-old daughter, Katie, swimming close by, Shari and Christian Grimes stood on the pool deck speaking to Sandpipers of Nevada coach Chris Barber. Christian had simply been provided the deputy fireplace chief job in Logan, Utah, and the household was contemplating shifting there from their dwelling in Las Vegas.

Barber is an effective listener with a relaxed head, Shari says, and the Grimes household trusts him. So she didn’t take his phrases that day evenly. Barber began by saying that Katie may transfer anyplace and earn a university swimming scholarship.

“However I’m telling you proper now,” he continued, “there’s something totally different about her. And in the event you go away her right here, she shall be an Olympian.”

Shortly after, Ron Aitken, the Sandpipers CEO who coaches the crew’s high swimmers, heard what the household was contemplating. He reached out to make a pact: In the event that they stayed in Nevada, he promised he’d stay with Sandpipers no less than till Katie graduated highschool.

The coaches’ responses had been telling. Katie was a particular expertise with extra potential than her mother and father had realized as much as that time. So Shari and Christian listened. The household stayed put.

5 years later, Grimes is likely one of the most promising swimmers within the U.S. She already made Barber look prophetic, making the Olympics as a 15-year-old in 2021, and has since gained three silver medals in pool occasions on the World Aquatics Championships. She’s additionally a world-class open-water swimmer and has already certified for the 2024 Paris Olympics within the 10-kilometer race after taking bronze on the 2023 world championships, making her the primary American athlete to safe a spot in France.

“Understanding that I’m already going to Paris is just a little bit comforting, however I nonetheless actually wish to make it within the pool,” mentioned Grimes, now 17. “… I really feel like I nonetheless have so much to do.”

Grimes isn’t glad, her mother says. Shari believes there are occasions Katie must have fun her accomplishments greater than she does. However that unrelenting starvation is probably what regularly propels {the teenager} to new heights.

Katie, who’s homeschooled and the youngest of seven youngsters, spent just a little over three weeks this fall on the Olympic Coaching Middle in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Shari chaperoned for a part of the journey, and she or he stopped by the pool each from time to time throughout practices. She discovered herself getting emotional seeing how onerous her daughter and the opposite swimmers work and the way a lot they sacrifice for a shot at their targets.

“However I additionally do consider that there’s even larger greatness inside her that hasn’t damaged out but, and I’m excited for that,” Shari mentioned. “As a result of each time we present up someplace, that woman actually amazes us with one thing completely out of the blue that we weren’t anticipating.”

When Katie was round 3, a Sandpipers coach seen her older brother Carter on the YMCA pool. Carter had been a gymnast till he grew too tall, and he regarded good within the water, so the coach approached Shari to ask if the household can be keen on becoming a member of the swim membership. Carter tried it and excelled, ultimately swimming on the College of Missouri.

From that second on, “Katie just about grew up on the pool deck,” mentioned Shari, who had a 12-passenger van due to her huge household and continuously drove Sandpipers swimmers to and from follow. The younger Katie was her carpool pal, sitting in her automobile seat within the again.

“She liked being across the swimmers,” Shari mentioned. “It was simply type of a pure development for her to begin swimming when she bought to that age.”

As she emerged as an elite swimmer, Grimes made it her aim to make the 2024 Olympics in Paris. She wouldn’t have been a contender to make the Tokyo Olympics as a 14-year-old had they been held in 2020, as initially scheduled. However when these Video games bought delayed a 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it modified Grimes’ outlook. Her confidence was excessive, and part of her puzzled if she may make the crew.

She felt finest about her 400-meter particular person medley. However when she dove in for the race the primary morning of these U.S. Olympic Trials, all the pieces went flawed.

“I simply utterly ate it,” she mentioned.

Her nerves bought the most effective of her. She had a imaginative and prescient of how the race would go, and had she swam her seed time, she would have made the ultimate. As an alternative, she added practically 5 seconds.

Katie Ledecky and Grimes pose after qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics within the 800-meter freestyle on the U.S. Trials in June 2021. “She’s the now!” Ledecky mentioned of Grimes, then simply 15 years outdated. (Al Bello / Getty Photos)

After the race, Grimes lay in her Omaha lodge room, sobbing. Inconsolable. All Shari may do was sit on the mattress along with her daughter and let her cry.

“It was probably the most devastated we’ve seen her,” Shari mentioned.

Katie was sharing a room along with her older brother Sawyer, who swam on the College of Minnesota and likewise made the Olympic Trials. He gave her a pep discuss with “not the nicest phrases,” Katie mentioned, laughing.

“Simply type of pulled me again up,” she mentioned.

It was precisely what she wanted. Over the approaching days, she demolished her finest time within the 1,500-meter freestyle, ending third and narrowly lacking the Olympic crew. Katie Ledecky, whom Grimes had photos of on her wall as a child, instructed the younger swimmer she was the long run. Then, in Grimes’ final occasion, she eked into the ultimate of the 800-meter freestyle, establishing one of many storybook swims of the meet. Within the last, she out-touched Olympic medalist Haley Anderson for second place, qualifying for the Olympics.

Grimes punched the water with pleasure when she noticed her time and placement. Ledecky, who bought first, swam over to congratulate her, lifting her competitor’s hand into the air so the gang may cheer.

“She’s the now!” Ledecky mentioned in her post-race interview with NBC, amending her assertion from earlier within the meet.

It was a career-altering second for Grimes, whose youth was obvious as she stood subsequent to the then-24-year-old Ledecky. Sponsorship offers would comply with, and she or he was set to go midway across the globe to race on the world’s largest swim meet. Swimming, in her phrases, was “by no means going to be a foolish little factor anymore.”

“This simply bought severe,” she thought to herself.

Making the Olympics at 15 was a momentous accomplishment in itself. Grimes, who was the youngest member of Staff USA in Tokyo, adopted her qualification up by dropping much more time in her preliminary 800-meter freestyle swim. However she was a tad slower within the last — although nonetheless sooner than her breakout swim at trials — and missed the rostrum by a second. Had she swam her prelims time, she would have gotten bronze.

Was she completely satisfied along with her swims, contemplating how huge of an accomplishment a fourth-in-the-world end is?

“Um …” she mentioned, pausing for a second. “Not likely.”

Grimes rode by herself on the shuttle to the Olympic village, then sat underneath a tree to name her mother and father, who had been watching from the U.S. She cried as they emphasised how proud they had been of her.

“I simply felt like such a loser,” she mentioned.

Her fellow Staff USA swimmers had been supportive, although, and Grimes ultimately got here to the conclusion that she had put collectively a formidable summer time.

Narrowly lacking out on the rostrum additionally gave her a carrot to chase in 2024. She mentioned it’s helped preserve her motivated, although she estimates she nonetheless would have had loads of drive had she come away with a medal.

Although trials and the Olympics was Grimes’ highest-profile meet of 2021, they weren’t her final formative one. When she’s coping with powerful circumstances, her mother reminds her of how she dealt with that winter’s Brief Course World Championships in Abu Dhabi. Grimes contracted COVID-19 through the meet, forcing her to withdraw from competitors. She then needed to isolate in another country. When her household celebrated Christmas again within the U.S., the 15-year-old was alone in quarantine.

Fellow U.S. Olympian Regan Smith remembers being touched by Grimes utilizing her additional time to ship Merry Christmas texts to her teammates.

“That’s one thing I’ll always remember,” Smith mentioned. “A easy story like that, it tells so much about who she is.”

The 2-plus-hour race got here right down to a tenth of a second. It was the 2023 world championships, and Grimes reached for the end within the 10-kilometer open water occasion. Her hand, it was determined after a photograph end evaluate, touched forward of Sharon van Rouwendaal and Ana Marcela Cunha, the previous two Olympic gold medalists. She had gained bronze, making her the primary official U.S. Olympian for Paris and a two-time Olympian at age 17.

That, Shari Grimes mentioned, was not on the household’s radar. Their daughter had amazed them as soon as once more.

The swim earned Grimes the USA Swimming Golden Goggle award for Feminine Race of the Yr. If she will be able to qualify for the Olympics in a pool occasion at U.S. Trials in June, she’ll be the primary U.S. girl to compete in pool and open water occasions on the similar Olympics.

However even with out her world-class swimmer resume — which may develop considerably within the coming months — Grimes wouldn’t be a typical 17-year-old. Generally she jokes along with her mother and father that she was born within the flawed decade, that she ought to’ve been born within the Eighties.

“She’s such an outdated soul,” Shari mentioned.

Begin along with her music style. She’s at the moment into Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and particularly the Foo Fighters. She additionally loves traditional vehicles. She’s not fairly positive how she bought into them, although her dad doubtless has one thing to do with it. He owns a 1977 Ford Bronco, they usually bond over their traditional automobile itch. Grimes fell in love with the Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40, and she or he and her dad scoured web sites searching for the car. Her dad ultimately discovered one, and Katie realized the best way to drive stick shift and helped change the automobile’s timing belt.

“I like studying about them and the way to make things better, and I believe they’re simply cool,” she mentioned.

Heading into the 2024 Olympic cycle, Grimes — who plans to swim collegiately however has not but picked a college — feels extra nervous than she did heading into 2021. She’s not going to catch anybody abruptly this time. She’s a identified contender, and she or he’s set expectations for herself.

“It’s like, ‘Effectively, I did it after I was 15, why can’t I do it after I was 18?’” she mentioned. “However truthfully that’s simply the intrusive ideas you can utterly block out. … I’ve gone sooner and I’ve gotten higher in follow and am working actually onerous, so there’s no motive for me to be nervous. Simply belief in your coaching and belief that I’ve progressed and I’m smarter and am in a position to deal with issues higher.”

The expertise of the final Olympic cycle, in addition to her pool and open water meets since, ought to assist her navigate all of it.

“I believe she retains studying how resilient she actually is,” her mother mentioned. “I believe she feels she has a lot extra inside her that she needs to point out the world.”



Torri Huske enters the Olympic grind, with one aim in thoughts for Paris

(High photograph of Grimes and her bronze medal from the 10-kilometer open water swim on the 2023 world championships in July: DBM / Insidefoto / Mondadori Portfolio by way of Getty Photos)

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