Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The games of the 14th Paralympics will open on August 29th, 2012 in London. With a few more races like those he swam this past weekend, Travis Pollen ’12 may have the opportunity to represent the United States in those games.
Last Friday, Pollen set the American-record in the 50-yard freestyle before eclipsing his own American-record in the 100-yard freestyle on Sunday at the Centennial Conference Championships from Gettysburg.
The successes for Pollen are the result of tremendous resolve, persistence, and intensity for the junior who only began swimming six years ago.
Pollen was born with a fused left knee and hip, the result of proximal femoral focal deficiency, a non-hereditary birth defect. At the age of three, his left foot was amputated to fit a better prosthesis.
He didn’t begin his swimming career until his sophomore year in high school. But he has been in the water nearly year-round ever since, taking no longer than a two-month break from swimming over the past six years.
Pollen’s emergence on the national scene for his Paralympic class S9, for swimmers with one limb loss, began at last year’s Centennial meet. Pollen had hoped to break the American record in the 50-free but suffered a disappointing race before rebounding to set the American record in the 100-free with a time of 54.80. In March, he went on to win the national championship in the 50-meter freestyle (28.47) and finish second in the 100-meter (1:01.42) freestyle.
“Travis is stubborn and determined,” said Swarthmore’s head swim coach Sue Davis. “That’s what makes him so good.”
This determination has helped make Pollen a leader on the close-knit team, in which individuals look to build off of the success of their teammates. “It’s a very joint effort. Our guys at the Centennial Conference meet, swam 119 season-best times and 40 lifetime-best times. They really feed off of each other,” Davis added.
During the summers, Pollen puts himself through a rigorous weight-training and swim schedule to improve his conditioning and make up for his late-entry into the world of competitive swimming. “His leadership abilities come through with his work-ethic, toughness, and his dedication, and both teams, men and women, respect that to the [utmost] degree,” Davis said. “That’s where he has been a leader on our team.”
His toughness, both mental and physical, has allowed Pollen to improve every day he dives into the water. In the fall semester of his freshman year, Pollen fell off his scooter on the way to his first meet. In the rain, Pollen tried to break to turn onto the path to Ware Pool and the scooter slipped out from under him.
His back was sore, but Pollen continued on to the meet. He kept swimming for three weeks without his back improving. When he finally got an MRI, he found out that he had broken a bone in his back. “I did okay that year, and I have had no injuries since because a lot of swimmers get hurt just from overuse,” Pollen said.
“He is totally focused, totally dedicated, and I would not put any limitations on what he will do in the future,” Davis said. “When you have that type of dedication and work ethic, you are going to find out how good you can be. The work ethic that he has, everyone should have.”
At Gettysburg this weekend, Pollen began his meet with a blistering time of 24.74 for the 50-free. He followed with a 54.73 in the 100-free, shaving .07 seconds off of last year’s record-setting time.
“The ultimate goal for me is swimming in the 2012 Paralymics, so everything leading up until that is really for that purpose. My motivation is to be the fastest in the United States and to be the best American.” Pollen said.
Pollen will defend his American championship in the 50-free and his second place finish in the 100-free in Minneapolis in six weeks. After, he will begin training for next year, swimming through the end of the semester and staying at Swarthmore over the summer, training with an area club team, coached by Swarthmore assistant coach Charlie Kennedy.
Pollen hopes to graduate a semester early in order to spend the four months leading up to Paralympic time trials in April 2012 training full-time. At that meet, he will have just one chance to post one of the top two times in the world in order to insure his place on the American team.
“If I get selected, I’ll be training until the Paralympics in August, and if not, then who knows. I haven’t really thought past it because I just have this goal in mind,” Pollen said.
For his record-breaking performance last year, Pollen was featured on Comcast SportsNet and NBC as well as in Sports Illustrated. But the stubborn junior isn’t ready to rest just yet.
A few more races, and at the end of his seventh year of competitive swimming, Travis Pollen may have the chance to walk into London’s Olympic stadium in 2012 beneath the American flag.