After completing the 10k race at the USA Swimming Open Water Nationals, freshman swimmer Sean Ryan glanced at his time.
He was shocked.
“I was sort of in disbelief,” Ryan said. “I was trying to figure out if it really happened, because coming around the last turn I was in fourth or fifth place.”
With about 50 meters to go, Ryan began his surge, overtaking three of his competitors to finish in second place with a time of 2:05:38:46.
But Ryan acknowledged that he didn’t do it alone. He credited his late surge to assistant coach Josh White and to the rest of the coaching staff at Michigan.
“I think the biggest impact that training with Josh and being at the University of Michigan has had on me is that I’ve developed a lot more low-end speed,” Ryan said. “I wasn’t really able to go really fast at the end of my races but now I’ve developed that. I’ve developed a lot stronger kick than I had so I can finish races a lot easier.
“And that’s how I got around those people at the end to finish in the top two.”
Even though the race took place in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the thrill of the race was felt all the way out in Ann Arbor, Mich. by Michigan swimming coach Mike Bottom. With swimming and diving workouts taking place at Michigan, Bottom had his assistant coaches run the workouts so that he could watch Ryan compete.
“It was probably one of the most exciting races of my life,” Bottom said. “It was 10k, so it went on, and on, and on, and on. By the time it was over I was emotionally exhausted. My emotions got so high that I almost cried. It was so exciting.”
Along with finishing second in the 10k race, Ryan took home first place in the 5k event with a time of 53:11:79.
But it was the 10k contest that had the biggest implications. With the second-place finish, Ryan was awarded a spot in the 2011 FINA Championships — which serve as a direct qualifier for the 10k open-water event at the 2012 Olympics games in London.
Ryan’s ascension to the top of the national ranks as a long distance swimmer hasn’t been easy.
Recruited to Michigan because of his great potential, Ryan struggled to meet the high expectations that were set for him when he first arrived on campus. After becoming sick at the beginning of the swimming season, the Hixson, Tenn. native labored through a year which was filled with many ups and downs.
But with the help of the Michigan coaching staff, especially White, Ryan worked tirelessly to increase his speed and to improve his endurance in long distance swimming.
Now, Ryan is thinking big as he prepares for the FINA Championships, which take place in Shanghai, China at the end of July.
“I think that I am definitely in a position where I should be top 10 at the World Championships,” Ryan said. “So qualifying for the Olympics is definitely at the forefront of my mind. It’s my biggest goal right now and the focus of my training.”