Robert Griswold competes in the Men's 100m Backstroke S8 Final on 2019 World Para-swimming Allianz Championships on Sept. 10, 2019 in London.
MINNEAPOLIS — Paralympian Robert Griswold set an American record in the men’s S8 100-meter backstroke at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Swimming on Thursday, and he did so thinking about Curtis Lovejoy.
Lovejoy, a five-time Paralympian who competed not only in swimming but also in fencing, died in March at the age of 63 after a battle with cancer.
“I was sitting in bed this afternoon and I actually broke down in tears thinking about the kind of man that he was, not just what he taught me about swimming but about being a man and how to live life as a good person,” said Griswold, who made his Paralympic debut in 2016 and won bronze in the 100-meter backstroke. “I carried that with me, and even with the pain and the suffering of the last five to 10 meters of that race I thought about Curtis and that’s what got me through.”
Griswold said Lovejoy was a father figure to so many on the team, and this is the first opportunity many of them have had to be together and share stories since his passing. He remembers stepping onto the pool deck for his first big meet as an 11-year-old boy and meeting Lovejoy.
“That man sat down with me for two hours and just told me about life, asked me about my story, legitimately cared,” Griswold, a native of Freehold, New Jersey, said. “He never missed a birthday and never missed a best time. He’s somebody who is an icon in this sport forever, known worldwide not just in swimming but in fencing. Curtis was an inspiration to so many. I just want to live the rest of my career carrying on his legacy of not just being a high-performing athlete but somebody who’s a leader.”
Griswold swam the 100-meter backstroke in 1:03.29. Fellow U.S Olympic & Paralympic Training Center resident athlete Matthew Torres was second in the S8 class, while David Gelfand was first in the S9 class, Tye Dutcher led in S10 and Parker Egbert was tops in S14.
Paralympic swimmers are classified according to level of function, with 1 through 10 indicating physical impairment. The higher the number, the greater the function. Numbers 11 through 13 indicate visual impairment, and 14 indicates intellectual impairment.
Pergolini Sets World Record
Gia Pergolini is hoping to make her first Paralympic team, and her performance in the 100-meter backstroke S13 classification certainly helped make her case. The Atlanta native, 17, set a new world and American record during the morning prelims with a time of 1:05.31, beating the previous record of 1:05.56. Not happy to leave it at that, Pergolini lowered her time in the final to 1:05.13.
American Records Tumbling Down
Zach Shattuck, another Paralympic hopeful, took down not one but two U.S. records on Thursday. The Maryland native’s time of 1:23.76 in the SB6 100-meter backstroke prelims did the trick, and while his time rose a bit to 1:24.19 in the final it was still enough to win. Shattuck also took first in the 50-meter butterfly in record time, touching the wall in 33.33 seconds to edge Connor Gioffreda.
Jessica Long Marches On
Jessica Long has a total of 23 Paralympic medals, and she’s not done collecting yet. Hoping to make her fifth Paralympic team, Long took first in the 100-meter breaststroke SB7 class to kick off Thursday night’s finals with a time of 1:34.18.
In other 100 breaststroke races, Sophia Herzog took first in the SB6 classification, MeiMei White won in SB8, Mikaela Jenkins won in a close battle with Summer Schmit in SB9, Mcclain Hermes won SB11 and two-time Paralympian Colleen Young took first in SB13.
Long also took first in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 1:20.11. Hannah Aspden, a 2016 Paralympian, was first in S9. Jenkins grabbed another win in S10, as did Hermes in S11.
Hometown Star Weggemann In Form
Two-time Paralympian Mallory Weggemann, a native of Eagan, Minnesota, found herself at the front of her class twice on opening night. She led a strong field in the S7 100-meter backstroke with a time of 1:22.68 to edge Julia Gaffney, who took second in 1:23.51. Not far off in third was McKenzie Coan followed by Ahalya Lettenberger.
Weggemann also topped Gaffney and Coan in the S7 50-meter butterfly, and took second in the SB6 100-meter breaststroke.
Austin Off To Strong Start
Evan Austin is going for Paralympic team No. 3, and the reigning world champion in the S7 50-meter butterfly kicked off the trials with a victory in the same event with a time of 29.57 seconds.