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Eighteen months ago, most people had never heard of Florida swimmer Conor Dwyer. Dwyer completed his freshman and sophomore years at Iowa posting NCAA “B” standard times and recording a school record in the 100 freestyle while earning two Big Ten Swimmer-of-the-Week honors.
Dwyer was looking for somewhere to work out during the summer of 2009 and found a place that would revolutionize his swimming career.
“I was just looking for a place to train over the summer and a family friend, Janet Evans, was helping me find the right place,” Dwyer said. “Coach Troy let me come down and after a month or two I realized this was the place I needed to be in order to get better. It was a great fit for me with the program and school and people on the team.”
Florida head coach Gregg Troy can see what makes Dwyer tick.
“He’s one of those guys who is always looking for challenges,” Troy said. “He likes to race with people in practice. He’s a little like a sponge. He listens and absorbs information real well and he’s real competitive.”
That competitive streak led Dwyer to unprecedented success during his first year with the Gators.
At the 2010 NCAA Championships, he captured seven All-America honors including two individual titles in the 200 and 500 freestyles. He was named the SEC Male Swimmer of the Year, the Division I national men’s swimmer of the year and is now a member of the 2010-11 U.S. National Team.
“I think (the Florida coaching staff) push you in a way to get everything that you’re capable of,” Dwyer said. “It was something that I wasn’t used to, pushing myself that hard every single practice and not really having a recovery practice and seeing how much better I could get outside the pool, not just in the pool.
“I surprised myself a lot,” said Dwyer of his junior year. “All year, coach Troy told me, Shaune [Frasier, the defending champion in the event] and Brett [Fraser] that he didn’t care who was going to win the 200 freestyle, but he wanted us to [go] 1-2-3 [in] it and it would be between us who wanted it more and who trained harder. At the end of the year, it ended up going 1-2-7. He definitely instilled in me that I was capable of winning and I think I surprised myself by winning both [the 200 and 500 freestyle] last year.”
Troy didn’t doubt Dwyer could reach those lofty levels, but he also didn’t know for sure that Dwyer’s improvement would evolve quite like it has.
“I saw a guy who was tall and skinny with pretty good strokes and he was interested in the sport,” Troy said of Dwyer. “It was one of those rare situations where you’ve got a guy who looks for the fastest people in training sessions and he chases them. And when he catches them, he doesn’t let go. I think there wasn’t really one thing, just a great aptitude for the sport and a good feel for training.”
With Dwyer’s impressive performance at last year’s Championships in the rear view mirror, focus went toward continued improvement.
“This past summer, he trained with a group of pretty good older guys,” Troy said. “He trained with [reigning USA Swimmer of the Year] Ryan Lochte in particular. It was the same thing again, he took everything up another notch looking for other guys to race and compete with.
“He is very interested in swimming at the highest levels and he’s kind of limitless. Some peole set goal times and sometimes their goal times become limits. His are not boundaries. What he’s done, he was predominantly just a freestyler. Last summer, he took off in all the other strokes the way he had in freestyle. Consequently, we’ve got a guy that’s on the verge of being one of the best medley swimmers ever.”
Dwyer has continued his success into his final season as a Gator.
At the 2011 SEC Swimming championships at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Florida’s campus, Dwyer put forward a performance to remember. He swam on a record-breaking 800 free relay and as the meet went on he broke the pool, school and SEC record in the 500 freestyle (4:11.36) and 400 IM (3:37.75) along with a second-place finish in the 1,650 free, becoming the first swimmer in SEC history to take home the SEC Male Swimmer of the Year and Commissioner’s Trophy for high points in consecutive years.
“Obviously, he wants to win events,” Troy said. “He’s very motivated in that direction. He’s a real good team guy. You might make a case that he’s taking a little bit of a hit skipping the 200 freestyle, which is probably his best event. I think naturally the 200 free is what comes to him the easiest. It’s a little more natural for him. He’s got a mixture of speed and endurance so the 200 is a perfect event for him, but team-wise, it just fit for him to swim the 400 IM. He worked on it all year and it has really evolved to where it’s something that he’s really good at.”
Dwyer’s swimming future will include international competition. He will travel to China with the U.S. team this summer and plans to focus on training for the 2012 Olympics, where Troy will serve as the head coach for the U.S. Olympic men’s swimming team.
“[Dwyer] is the type of guy that is still on the upside of the curve and that puts him up there with rare competitors,” Troy said. “I think that he’s got to be a guy that is thinking of having a good shot at making the Olympic team in 2012. That’s a goal for him. It’s a lofty one and the level of competition once you get out of college goes up another notch. But he certainly has the capabilities and race instincts to do that type of thing.”
But before the focus shifts to London 2012, Dwyer has three days of competition for the Gators remaining.
“It’s been turning it up in training and being a captain this year,” Dwyer said of his continued success this season. “I’ve tried to lead the team and make sure, like last year the seniors helped me stay relaxed and have a good time the whole year, that’s pretty much what we’ve been trying to do this year while working hard. The end of the year is nice because we see how much our hard work has paid off.”
“He’s very much an easygoing kind of guy,” Troy said. “He’s very unpretentious. He’s had a lot of success and handled it very, very well. He’s real well-liked by teammates and very unassuming. He’s one of those type of guys that you love having on a team because he makes the people around him better.”
Dwyer is looking forward to his final collegiate meet with a focus on the team competition.
“I love this meet,” Dwyer said. “Last year, it was such a fun meet competing for your university, so I’m looking forward to trying to go after a team championship with my teammates and do everything I can that is within my power to help us do that.”