Homestead senior Cameron Luarde isn't going to make it to his high school graduation this week.
The Fort Wayne Swim Team member and Michigan signee has a pretty good reason for missing the ceremony: Luarde will be at Wave I of the Olympic Swimming Trials, which will run from Friday through Monday in Omaha, Nebraska. The top two finishers in each event and those who meet a qualifying standard will advance to the second wave of trials later in the month, where the Olympic team will be determined.
“Luckily, I was there in 2016 to watch – just watch, because I wasn't fast enough then. But it's like nothing you've ever been to, it's absolutely insane. It's a big dome around a pool,” Luarde said. “It was a huge motivator – I wanted to be here.”
Five years later, Luarde will compete in the 200-meter breaststroke, where his qualifying time of 2 minutes, 17.79 seconds ranks him 33rd out of 36th qualifiers in the Wave I field. At the send-off from the Carroll Natatorium on Wednesday, where other Fort Wayne Swim Team members lined up with signs wishing him well, Luarde said he would be happy to reach the Wave I finals or even qualify for Wave II, but that his main goal is having fun.
But that's a bigger challenge than it may seem.
“It's documented that only 20% of the kids who qualify to swim at the trials get a lifetime best at the Olympic trials – most people do not swim faster. It's just so stressful,” said Fort Wayne Swim Team coach John Gibson. “It's a lot of pressure, the size of the venue, the number of people. No swimmers go to meets like that. Trying to get into a routine and treat it like another meet is pretty hard to do.”
Luarde will be competing in the same event as former club teammate and high school rival Tristan DeWitt, a Carroll grad who now swims at Indiana. DeWitt is ranked 17th in the 200 breast heading into Wave I, and will also be competing in the 100-meter breaststroke and the 200 individual medley.
Indiana senior Jacob Steele, a Snider grad and former Fort Wayne Swim Team member, is the top Wave I qualifier in the 100 backstroke, 200 backstroke and 200 IM, so seems well-positioned to advance to Wave II.
The three Fort Wayne swimmers had tailored their training in order to peak for the trials in the summer of 2020, but COVID-19 upended the four-year Olympic cycle.
“It's nice, because I had something to push for the entire year,” said Luarde, who first qualified for the trials nearly two years ago. “I think I'm very ready for it, just because Coach Gibson has given me some great sets, some great training. I've gotten a lot of support from him.”