SWIMNEWS ONLINE: September 1997 Magazine Articles

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A Man On A Mission


Russ Ewald

Kurt Grote fulfilled the dream of winning a gold medal at the Olympics. But the former Stanford University swimmer left Atlanta disappointed because the medal came for swimming in the preliminaries on the medley relay team. His goal had been to earn a medal in an individual event, but he fell short with a sixth in the 100 breaststroke and eighth in the 200 breast.

"I knew I couldn't be done," recalls Grote, 24. "At that point, I'd gotten to the Olympic finals and was still improving every meet I swam in. So how could I possibly stop?"

The answer wasn't so simple. Grote was scheduled to start medical school at Stanford shortly after the Olympics. Ron Karnaugh, a 1992 Olympian, combined medical studies with swimming recently. He became a doctor but didn't make the Olympic team last year.

World Leader in 1997
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Dan Helms

Last fall Grote took 29 units his first quarter of medical school, nearly double the typical undergraduate load. Although he says that is common among med students, it limited his training to just three or four hours a week. Still, he was able to win both breaststrokes (1:02.73, 2:14.39) at the winter nationals in January and missed his personal best in the 200 by only 43/100ths.

The following quarters, though, Grote lightened his school load and concentrated on preparing for the summer meets. When the Stanford men's team started tapering for NCAAs, he began working out at the Santa Clara club under Dick Jochums and raised his training level.

The work paid off. Grote swept the breaststrokes at the summer nationals (1:01.45, 2:12.35) and Pan Pacific meet (1:01.22, 2:14.05) and became the first swimmer to be ranked No. 1 in the world in both breaststrokes since John Moffet (another Stanford swimmer) in 1985.

"He's a man on a mission," describes Jochums. Grote sees no secret to his success. He says, "Every season I try to train a little harder. I push my body harder. It worked great this summer."

On combining medical school and training, he says, "I haven't found it that hard, although there are times when it's really hard, like the fall quarter in anatomy and Christmas training when swimming was dragging me down. I think the key is knowing when to back off one, so you can put the energy into the other when you need to. I don't think I'd do as well in either if I didn't have the other."

Grote also found time to get married August 23 to longtime girlfriend Amy Hunn.

"He's just an amazing guy that really needs to be busy," says Stanford coach Skip Kenney.

Wife Amy adds, "He has succeeded in the classroom because he's very efficient when he studies. He can read something once and commit it to memory."

Growing up in San Diego, Grote played soccer for 10 years as a youngster until his pediatrician suggested grass sports weren't a good idea, because Grote, an asthmatic, was allergic to grass. Asthma had forced Grote to spend some time in the hospital, miss a lot of school, and visit the doctor weekly to get allergy shots. The doctor recommended swimming since the humidity of the water is good for people with asthma and the aerobic exercise strengthens the lungs and heart.

Grote joined his San Dieguito High School swim team. At 15, he was starting the sport very late. He developed into a decent sprinter his first two years and began swimming breaststroke as a senior but attracted no college scholarship offers. Kenney, though, saw his potential and invited him to walk on at Stanford.

Training with the top college team, Grote struggled to keep up in workouts his freshman season. Yet, by the NCAA Championships, he qualified first and placed fourth in the 200 yard breast and was sixth in the 100 breast to help Stanford to the first of three successive team titles. Grote improved each season, reaching the top in 1994 with a 200 breast victory at the NCAAs and then sweeping the breaststrokes (53.21, 1:55.02) the following year as a senior. Grote loved his Stanford experience so much he never seriously thought of transferring, even though the most aid he ever received at the expensive private university was one-tenth of a full scholarship.

PLACE San Diego, CA
HEIGHT 6 ft. 1 in. / 183 cm
WEIGHT 190 lbs / 86 kg
OCCUPATION Medical Student
REPRESENTS Stanford Club Team
COACH Skip Kenney

Grote is out of the ordinary in other ways. He sleeps as much as 11 hours a day, including an afternoon nap, eats from 5,000 to 6,000 calories during heavy training, keeps a journal of all his workouts and studies breaststrokers from a huge library of videotapes taken either by his father at meets or from TV coverage.

Although the Olympics were only a year away, Grote surprised Kenney, teammates, and friends by announcing his retirement following the NCAA meet. He planned to start medical school in the fall.

"College swimming was a big deal for me," he explains. "It's thrilling to be part of a team that has a shot at the national title. When you are coming from the background I had - not thinking you were even going to be a part of a Division 1 team - that was enough. I was completely satisfied with that. I didn't think I had the potential to be a great metres swimmer."

Grote had never finished higher than fifth at the U.S. championships during his college years. Instead of pointing for nationals, he used the summer to get in better shape for the next college season.

Six weeks later, though, he changed his mind and received approval from the medical school to delay starting his studies for a year. With the time off and the taper, there was precious little time to train for the 1995 summer nationals. So when Grote cut a second and a half off his personal best in the 100 metre breaststroke to win in 1:01.91 and took second in the 200 breast in 2:15.57, his confidence soared.

Not even a terrible bike accident curtailed Grote. In October of 1995, he was riding at about 40 miles per hour - he biked 150 miles a week as part of his training - when his front tire hit a rock to send him flying through the air. His body skidded to a stop, shearing roughly 10 percent of his skin off his back, arms, hip and legs. After checking to see he had no broken bones, he biked 17 miles home and somehow avoided going into shock when he looked in a mirror. He cleaned asphalt out of his back the best he could. The next day he flew to Colorado Springs for a scheduled training camp at the U.S. Swimming headquarters where the medical staff cleaned his back the proper way.

The next day he was back in the water, kicking only because he wasn't able to move his arms well. While he couldn't take a full stroke for a week and felt lousy for a month because of an infection, he never missed a day.

"That's something I'm proud of," says Grote, who suffered another setback in December of 1995 when a groin injury prevented him from kicking for a month. "I thought of it kind of as a test, and I didn't want to let it affect me. I wanted to be able to withstand any psychological challenge."

Grote passed the biggest test when he won the 200 breast (2:14.22) and finished runner-up in the 100 breast (1:02.03) at the Olympic trials.

The plan for this season is to take a light class load in the fall and focus on training at Stanford for the World Championships. Grote will then take heavy loads the final two quarters.

Kenney thinks his swimmer will have no problem sticking around for the next Olympics. "He's mentally fresher than other swimmers his age because of his late start in the sport," says the Stanford coach. "I thought he was sort of taking this year off and he becomes No. 1 in the world."

Grote is able to support himself financially through a number of sources. Stanford benefactor Mary Hiller, who also assisted Stanford stars Tyler Mayfield and Jeff Rouse, has started a trust fund for the breaststroker. He also gets a stipend from U.S. Swimming for ranking in the top six in the world, some money from the U.S. Olympic Committee, and has four sponsors: Nike, Zura (which makes swimming equipment), Champion Nutrition, and Revo (sunglasses).

Jochums believes Grote "could be a lot better than what you've seen so far. While his pulling is awesome, I think his legs still weren't in the best shape they could have been. His feet are quick. That's the key to breaststroke. If he ever gets in the shape I'd like to see him in, I don't think anybody can stay with him. He's capable to bettering the world records."

Grote is confident about the future, too. "I'm at the point in my career where I can read my body well and can learn from past experiences to know what to do in certain circumstances.

"I don't know who my rivals are. My goal is to do best times. If I keep improving, the sport will stay fun for me."

Kurt Grote
Long Course Progression and World Rankings
Year 100 Breast 200 Breast
1997 1:01.22 (1) 2:12.35 (1)
1996 1:01.69 (7) 2:13.96 (4)
1995 1:01.91 (7) 2:15.14 (12)
1994 1:03.43 (28)
1993 1:03.67 (39) 2:16.80 (23)
1992 1:03.94 (59) 2:17.96 (45)

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