By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
Ben Grove wasn't quite sure what to think when he caught a glimpse of the scoreboard immediately following his race in the 100-meter breaststroke during the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Long Course Invitational in Annapolis, Md., on Feb. 23.
Ben Grove, a sophomore at the United States Naval Academy and a member of the academy's swim team, had just finished the race with a final time of 1:04.22, but it took the Winchester native a few moments to register the true meaning behind the numbers.
A quick glance at his mother, Kim, who was in attendance that day, was all Ben Grove needed for reality to set in -- he had just qualified for a trip to the 2012 Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb., narrowly beating the target time of 1:04.69 in the 100 breast.
"I looked up at my mom and she was almost in tears," he said. "I looked up at the scoreboard and it just kind of hit me. I didn't really have much time to think about it until I cooled down, but then it started to set in.
"Now it's gotten to a point where I can't look at a picture of the pool [in Omaha's CenturyLink Center] without my heart racing."
Kim Grove needed no such pause for realization because she knew the magnitude of the feat her son had just accomplished, and she immediately got Ben's father on the phone to give him the news.
Tag Grove, who couldn't attend his son's competition because of his work schedule, couldn't believe what he was hearing from the other end of the line.
"She was hysterical," Tag Grove said. "I just kept saying, 'What? What?' I just broke down and started crying. I haven't been that emotional since Ben made the Junior National cut [as a sophomore in high school]."
Ben Grove will compete in the 100 breast today, the first day of the trials, against some of the best swimmers in the world. He will also have the chance to compete on Tuesday in the finals, should he make it that far.
An estimated 1,500 swimmers will compete in 26 events over an eight-day period. Participants represent roughly one-half of one percent of the 250,000 swimmers who are part of the U.S. Swimming program.
The top two swimmers in each of the 13 men's and 13 women's events will earn the honor of representing the United States in the 2012 Olympic games in London.
The opportunity to compete for such an honor has been a goal for Ben Grove since he first began swimming at age 6, but there came a time when that goal seemed a mere dream. Only his parents could see the limitless potential that their young son had.
"It's hard to believe that when he was in eighth grade he would cry before every [swim] practice," Kim Grove said. "He loved soccer and he loved basketball. But we just saw this incredible talent in him with swimming."
It helped that his father was also Ben's swim coach on the Winchester Swim Team. Tag Grove, a collegiate swimmer himself at Shepherd University, also coached his son when he began competing for Handley's swim team his freshman year of high school.
Ben Grove is grateful his father pushed him to continue swimming when he had all but given up on the sport.
"A huge part of my swimming success has been my dad," Ben Grove said. "He kept making me go and making me go, no matter how much I complained."
Ben Grove went on to capture back-to-back Group AA/A swimming titles in the 100-yard breaststroke during his junior and senior years at Handley in 2009 and 2010.
He then joined the Naval Academy after high school graduation, a move that he says has helped him take his swimming to the next level.
Ben Grove will be joined in Omaha by 10 other current members of Navy's swim team, all of whom will also be competing for a spot on the Olympic team. He is excited to share the opportunity with his teammates.
"Just the people that surround me speaks volumes for what we are able to accomplish [at Navy]," Ben Grove said. "It's a support system. It's great just seeing day in and day out that we're all working for the same thing."
Over 160,000 people attended the Olympic trials at CenturyLink Center in 2008, and a similar turnout can be expected at this year's event.
His parents, along with Ben's younger sister, will make the trip to Nebraska to witness their son's most prestigious swim meet to date. For Tag Grove, sitting in the stands is still a bit new, and he isn't sure what to expect when his son steps up to compete on the national stage.
"It's kind of hard sitting up in the stands -- I'm so used to being on the deck and talking to the kids," Tag Grove said. "I don't know how I'll react -- I'll have goose bumps, for sure."
Ben Grove hopes to use this year's Olympic trials to get a taste of what it takes to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Then he will turn his sights on 2016 -- when the next Olympic swim trials roll around -- when he hopes to earn the right to join the nation's elite swimmers.
For now, Ben Grove can learn from the experience, and revel in the fact that he gets to share the special moment with his family and Naval Academy teammates.
"It's going to be awesome," Ben Grove said. "Swimming is such an individualized sport, but I'm going to have everyone with me.
"I'm going to have my entire family with me."