USMS Members Taking on the Nation’s Best at Olympic Trials
Several USMS members are hoping to qualify for Team USA
Many of the competitors in Omaha this month for the U.S. Olympic Team swimming trials are part of USA Swimming or college programs across the country. However, several of them have connections to U.S. Masters Swimming.
Here are four USMS members competing at Olympic trials.
In the 2019 TYR Pro Swim Series event held in June in Clovis, California, Brandon Fischer, then 30 years old, announced he was a force to be reckoned with when he dropped over a second off his personal best in the 100-meter breaststroke to become the third-fastest American in that event that year. He was the only man under a minute at the meet, swimming a 59.86, and was nearly a second ahead of his closest competitor.
No stranger to top performances, Fischer swam for the University of Wyoming, graduating in 2012 with a slew of accolades. He competed at the 2012 trials, then retired from the sport for a year and a half. In 2014, he began training with Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics. From there, he raced all through 2015, making several stops on the 2015 Arena Pro Swim Series and at Summer Nationals. He was a semifinalist at the 2016 trials in the 100 and 200 breaststroke but didn’t make the cut for finals.
He decided he’d experienced enough “failure and disappointment” and retired, hoping “to leave it all behind.” He didn’t intend to “go near a pool again because it was triggering for me. Also, I needed to earn an income and get my financial situation stable in getting a full-time job.”
But his retirement didn’t last long. Fischer came back to racing in June 2018 and participated in several Masters meets. He wasn’t expecting anything to come from it, but “funny outcome, I went faster in all the events that I signed up for, surpassing what I did in college and earlier.”
Fischer competes primarily in USA Swimming events, but he’ll sometimes still swim in a Masters meet. He’s seeded fifth in the 100 breaststroke and 15th in the 200 breaststroke at the second wave of trials.
One of the fastest swimmers to take part in the first wave of trials was sprinter Marina Spadoni. But just a few years ago, the 27-year-old couldn’t possibly envision what she’d be able to accomplish in the pool today after she immediately retired from swimming after graduating from Arizona State University in 2016.
“I was so disappointed in how my collegiate career had ended that I told myself I'd never swim again, especially not Masters,” Spadoni says. “I had a thing against Masters Swimming because one summer my club told me I wasn't good enough to train with them, so I had to swim with the Masters team.”
She says the Masters swimmers turned out to be amazing people but that damage had been done: “I just felt like it was a place that I was put in to be in the corner and forgotten.”
However, that all changed in 2019 when a friend wanted to do a workout with the Masters program that trains at Arizona State and dragged Spadoni to the pool. She decided to hang out on deck but got in the water because it was too hot.
“The competitive side of me came out, and I ended up swimming the whole practice,” she says.
That return to the water flipped a switch for Spadoni, who realized that over the previous three years without swimming, “there was just something missing in my life, and I couldn't find anything to replace swimming.”
Spadoni soon built herself back up and credits Swim Devil Masters Coach Jonny Tunstall with helping her do it. “He got me from not being able to swim a full 50-meter fly to getting the 50 free Olympic trials cut in less than a year. It was one of the first times that I had a coach who really wanted to specifically work with me. We worked on a lot of innovative drills and techniques. Working with him really launched me into my professional swimming career.”
Spadoni soon earned an Olympic trials cut in the 100 freestyle and then moved to Virginia to join a small group of pros. For some Olympic hopefuls, the postponement of trials last year meant they would lose their best shot at making the team. For Spadoni, however, postponement “gave me the opportunity to move to Florida to swim with West Palm Beach Masters. It's been really great.”
At the first wave of trials, Spadoni finished seventh in the 100 freestyle and 10th in the 50 freestyle.
Danielle Hermann had a big year in 2019. The then 32-year-old who swims with Clovis Swim Club Masters in California had a breakout 100 breaststroke at the 2019 U.S. National Championships when she posted a lifetime best of 1:09.87, placing 21st.
Herrmann, who had quit swimming after finishing 78th in the 100 breaststroke at the 2016 trials, says she originally got into Masters Swimming “as a way to get back in shape after being out of the water for a year and a half.” The return was refreshing, and she “realized how much I’d missed being in the water.”
What’s more, she “met some really awesome people and was able to get some good workouts in.” One of her teammates officiated meets at Fresno State and suggested she enter an invitational meet one weekend. “I didn’t quite feel ready to race yet but thought, ‘Why not?’” she says. “I swam at the meet and swam faster than I expected. It was at that meet that I decided I wanted to keep competing.”
As she continued swimming more, Hermann—who works as a pediatric pharmacist at a hospital in Madera, California—says she’s transitioned to competing in more USA Swimming meets. But she’s still connected to Masters. “I love the challenge of aiming to break the Masters Nationals records,” says Herrmann, who holds two individual USMS records.
Herrmann was seeded eighth in the 100 breaststroke at the first wave of trials but was disqualified.
When he moved to Los Angeles after college a few years ago, Ralph Porrazzo wanted to make new friends, which led to him trying a workout with Rose Bowl Masters.
“The team is amazing, and I’ve been swimming for them ever since,” says Porrazzo, 28.
He’s been getting faster ever since too. He qualified for trials while competing in the U.S. Open event in Irvine, California, in November 2020 and made his trials debut when he swam the 100 backstroke during the first wave of trials. He tied for 50th with a time of 57.72.
“It wasn’t my fastest race, but I definitely had a wonderful experience,” he says.
Porrazzo’s optimistic embrace of the notion that the best may be yet to come rings true to many Masters swimmers, including many of the USMS members who qualified for trials. Progression in swimming isn’t always linear, and the sport doesn’t universally favor younger athletes.
“My biggest hope is to show the Masters Swimming community that with focused, intentional effort you can continue to grow and swim fast in this sport,” Porrazzo says. “I’m turning 29 in July, and I’m posting lifetime bests. While my race at the 2021 Olympic Trials is finished, I plan to continue training and competing.”
USMS Members Participating at U.S. Olympic Trials
Claire Beaty, East Bay Bat Rays Masters
Donna dePolo, Sierra Nevada Masters
P.J. Dunne, Club Swim at the University of Virginia
Anthony Ervin, Swim Fort Lauderdale
Brandon Fischer, Unattached Pacific LMSC
Matt Grevers, Illinois Masters
Tara Halsted, Davis Aquatic Masters
Danielle Herrmann, Clovis Swim Club Masters
Hannah Kastigar, Phoenix Swim Club
Madison Kennedy, North Carolina Masters Swimming
Connor Lee, Unattached Southern Pacific LMSC
Ryan Lochte, Golden Road Aquatics
Kevin Mendoza, Santa Barbara Masters Swimming
Drew Modrov, Chelsea Piers fitness NY/BK
Jack Moranetz, North Carolina Masters Swimming
Destiny Nelson, Palm Beach Masters
Brett Pinfold, First Colony Masters Swimming
Ralph Porrazzo, Rose Bowl Masters
Josh Prenot, The Olympic Club
Mahlon Reihman, WHAC Masters
Justin Ress, North Carolina Masters Swimming
Hannah Saiz, Kenyon Masters
Jack Saunderson, North Carolina Masters Swimming
Marina Spadoni, Palm Beach Masters
Coleman Stewart, North Carolina Masters Swimming
Austin Surhoff, Rice Aquatic Masters
Aly Tetzloff, North Carolina Masters Swimming
Wes Thomas, Stanford Masters Swimming
Ian Thompson, Fort Belvoir Masters
Wyatt Ubellacker, Rose Bowl Masters
Jaycee Yegher, Unattached Potomac Valley LMSC
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- Human Interest