The day was Oct. 26, 2001. It was freshman Chuck Sayao’s first meet as a member of the Michigan men’s swimming and diving team. After Florida had jumped to an early lead, Sayao came through in the 200-meter backstroke, claiming a victory that helped the Wolverines storm back and win.
Flash forward to a recent meet. Some of the characters have changed, but the situation is the same.
Against Indiana on Jan. 22, the Wolverines trailed 134.5-129.5 when senior Chuck Sayao won the 400-yard individual medley to recapture the lead and propel Michigan to a victory.
“I really can’t believe that four years went by so fast,” Sayao said. “It seems like just yesterday that I was walking in here as a freshman, swimming my first dual meet.”
Growing up in Mississauga, Ontario, Sayao knew that his best opportunity to continue to swim at a high level was to come to the United States.
After meeting with then-coach Jon Urbanchek, Sayao felt that Michigan would be the best place for him. Michigan boasted strong athletics and also academic excellence.
Sayao has enjoyed both privileges of being a Wolverine.
In the pool, Sayao won a Big Ten Championship in the 400-yard individual medley in 2003. In 2002 and 2003, he was named All-America honorable mention, and, in 2004, he was an All-American in the 400-meter individual medley.
In the classroom, Sayao has excelled in his engineering studies. He is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten Conference swimmer, a two-time U-M Athletic Academic Achievement winner and a 2003 NCAA Academic All-American.
“Chuck is one of the most conscientious young men we have,” Michigan coach Bob Bowman said. “He’s one of the hardest workers that we have in the pool, and it’s really nice when you have someone like that.”
Coming into this year, Bowman knew that Sayao had been a Big Ten Champion and that he could count on Sayao to perform at the high level of a champion.
Not one to disappoint, Sayao has swum masterfully. He has won four events, and, against Indiana, he posted a season-best time in the 400-yard individual medley and the 200-yard backstroke and a personal-best time in the 200-yard freestyle.
Sayao attributes his recent success to the training trip that the team took during winter break. The Wolverines traveled to California, and, in the midst of two-a-day practices in cold, rainy weather, Sayao believes that the team bonded together.
With a team mindset, Sayao doesn’t concern himself with individual awards or recognition.
“For collegiate swimming, (the goal) is to help out the team as much as possible and to help out Michigan,” Sayao said. “At the Big Ten and the NCAA Championships every point matters, and that’s what keeps me motivated every day.”
Not only does Sayao help the team with wins in the pool, but Bowman believes that he also influences his team in other areas.
“He sets a great example,” Bowman said. “Chuck’s not a very vocal person, but everything he does is a good example. He’s on time, works hard and does the best he can regardless of the situation.”
In the next few weeks, the Wolverines will prepare for the upcoming Big Ten Championships to be held Feb. 24-26. While training relatively hard right now, the intensity will eventually taper off, allowing the swimmers to rest for the Big Ten Championships.
Sayao will look to win a Big Ten Championship in the 400-yard individual medley, then place in the top-10 in his other events. In the NCAA Championships, he’ll be happy with a top-eight finish in the 400-meter individual medley.
Now, as his time here at Michigan draws to a close, Sayao realizes that Michigan gave him everything that he ever imagined.
“I’ve really learned that you can do anything at this school,” Sayao said. “There’s nothing to hold you back. You have all the resources at your disposal in terms of what you want to study or however far you want to go in sports. It’s all here, and it’s great to take advantage of that.”