By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Anyone familiar with Conor Dwyer’s story knows of his humble beginnings in the sport of swimming.
A scrawny kid yet to hit his eventual growth spurt, almost no one in the college ranks paid him any attention during recruiting. He landed his only Division I scholarship offer to the University of Iowa, and after a strong season with the Hawkeyes that saw him grow from a skinny 6-foot-1 to a chiseled 6-foot-4, he transferred to the University of Florida.
From there, his career took off like a rocket – and he’s been burning fuel and his competition to swimming stardom ever since.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve done (to improve over time) is commit myself to taking full advantage of the opportunities that have come my way,” said Dwyer, originally from a suburb of Chicago. “When I was training in Florida, with Ryan (Lochte), I gave it everything I had, and I’m doing that again now in Baltimore with Michael (Phelps) and Bob (Bowman). Maximizing these opportunities that most swimmers would love to have has really helped me develop as a swimmer.”
This weekend at the final Arena Grand Prix meet (watch live) of the season in Santa Clara, Calif., Dwyer swims to complete something he never intended to lead.
He currently sits atop the Arena Grand Prix Series points list for men, and with a couple of strong performances this weekend, he could take home the series championship and a bonus.
Katinka Hosszu of Hungary has a commanding lead among the women.
For Dwyer, who didn’t make it his goal at the beginning of the season to win the Arena Grand Prix Series championship, anything that happens moving forward is just icing on the cake and a testament to his determination to always improve.
And he’s accomplished this through consistency. He started the season with a very strong performance at the Arena Grand Prix at Minneapolis – winning two events and finishing second in two more – and he’s put in solid performances at subsequent meets the rest of the way.
“It feels great to be in the lead of the Arena Grand Prix series,” Dwyer said. “I didn't have this as a concrete goal leading into the year, but it’s nice to be in the hunt and gives me some extra incentive to race well at the meets.
“We (North Baltimore Aquatic Club) never go into these meets fully rested but are always looking to win no matter what part of the season we are at.”
Shortly after winning an 800 freestyle relay gold at the London Olympics in 2012, Dwyer relocated to Baltimore to train with Bowman at the NBAC after several years with the Gator Swim Club in Gainesville, Fla.
He saw results the following summer at the 2013 Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships when he qualified for Worlds in the 100 and 200 freestyle events. A month later at FINA World Championships, Dwyer had the meet of his life, winning gold as a member of the 800 freestyle relay team and silver in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay team.
Suffice it to say the change in scenery is proving to be a smart move for him.
“Every day when I wake up to go to morning practice, I realize how lucky I am to do what I love for a living,” said Dwyer, who identifies his London Olympics as the highlight of his career thus far and recently completed a 3-week cycle of three workouts a day at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“I have never done two 3-week altitude camps in a year. The triple workouts a day is very tough, but I know it will pay off big time at the end of this year.”
Dwyer said he’s counting on that extra-hard training paying dividends in August at this year’s Phillips 66 National Championships.
With berths on both the 2014 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championship and 2015 FINA World Championship teams on the line, this year’s meet carries extra incentive and extra importance.
“Yes, this is a huge year with qualifying for both of those meets,” Dwyer said. “I have put in a ton of work this year and am ready to take on one of my biggest meet schedules yet.
“I’m really looking forward to Nationals. I think I have a great shot at qualifying for multiple events. I know the competition is always good leading into a U.S. Olympic Trials but am confident and excited to race them in all my events.”
The bottom line for Dwyer – as is the case for most competitive swimmers – is that he’s putting in the work now to reap the benefits later.
He said he knows what his goals are and he’s ready to go after them each time he hits the water.
In swimming, I want gold medals and world records,” Dwyer said. “There’s no point beating around the bush on that. I know what I want and I’m going after it because it’s really, really fun to win.”