Breaststroker to Breaststroker: Brad Craig

  3 Gisselle Kohoyda | August 07th, 2014 | Lifestyle

I don’t vividly remember the day to be honest: I was a gangly 15 year old girl who didn’t understand that emo hair was better left in 7th grade with an unjustified fear that ran deep in my soul everyday as I walked into Barracuda Silver practices. You see, I started swimming really late and just happened to be passionate and hardworking enough to move up to the senior elite group of the team I competed for, by invitation only. I had heard about all the big names in our group and everyone talked about what colleges they would be at and what they were doing for summer plans as far as meets went, like any other typical club team. I heard his name around deck but when I saw him, I swam on the exact opposite end of the pool. Me? Swim in a lane with Brad Craig? No shot. He was so amazing and I was terrified and I couldn’t kick freestyle (only one of those things changed throughout my entire swimming career, I’ll let you guess). It wasn’t until one day I asked my head coach, Betsy Kolm, for help on my breaststroke kick that I was introduced to Brad and we made our first exchange of words. After that, it’s history from there.
I could go on and on about all of Brad’s amateur and professional swimming accolades but I would be boring most of you, since you’re already familiar with this name. What I can say from a personal perspective is that Brad became my first friend on my big, scary team and would be someone I look up to, even to this day. This past weekend at the Greensboro Sectional Meet, Craig swam the fastest time in 2014 in the 100 breast with a 200 that won’t quit (1:00.88 and 2:16.14 respectively). When I was approached with the honor of interviewing a long-time idol and friend of mine, I snatched the opportunity to portray Brad Craig as the man I have come to know him as: a man of hard work, perseverance, and humility.
Gisselle Kohoyda: How did you get your start in competitive swimming?
Brad Craig: I started swimming competitively around 6 or 7 years old for the Midland Dolphins and slowly worked my way up to the oldest and elite group (Barracuda Silver). I went to Tennessee, then hung around after 2o12 and that’s where my career took off.
GK: How did you know college swimming and Tennessee was right for you?
BC: The whole team just felt like a family. It’s hard to describe, it just felt right. I got along with everyone so well and things just clicked for me. Not only was the program interested in making me a better swimmer, but a better person to prepare me for life after swimming. It was the best 4 years of my life and I’m still very close to the guys I graduated with, we rarely go a day without talking still. We have a saying, VFL, and most people on the outside joke about it but it’s something we take very seriously and believe in wholeheartedly. I decided on staying at Tennessee post 2012 Trials with Matt Kredich while watching video. The meet didn’t go the way I wanted it to but we sat down to break down my race and he asked me with a sly smile, “So… are we done?” and I knew I had stuff left on the table. I knew I still had room to grow and I knew Tennessee, despite being under almost completely different staffing than when I was in college, was the place to train. I had a choice, and Matt respected that, but I knew it was a clear answer.
GK: You did a lot of great things in college with the Volunteers (2x SEC Champion in the 200 Breast, All-American Titles) but there has been a clear shift from then to your professional career. What changes helped you refine your game?
BC: The first two years at Tennessee, I could count on one hand the amount of times I was in a sprint practice. My junior and senior year I moved to doing 3 sprint practices a week which really started to show my gains as a sprinter. My aerobic base was there and I was physically ready for the shift. I made my third event (200 IM) more of a side project for fun and for training purposes. The IM training really keeps everybody versed and aerobically deep.
GK: 1:00.88. Fastest time in 2014 in the 100 breast in the nation. How’d that feel?
BC: Awesome. The last 10 meters hurt a little for sure but I definitely didn’t think I was going that fast and I didn’t think I could go that fast this soon in season. We’re three weeks out and I’m very excited with where I’m at. In prelims I was 1:01.4, which is my second fastest time compared to prelims at the 2013 US Open last summer (1:01.6). That was the meet I swam my fastest time of 1:00.7. I hit the wall and had a clear moment of catching my breath, then looked at the clock, definitely had to blink a couple times to see if it was correct. This really validates the training for me, since I feel we’ve been on the grind a bit harder than last summer.
GK: Now, when we swam together and all through college, predominantly your title was mid-distance but to say you’re a sprinter now is a statement of the obvious. What changes have you made from a training perspective?
BC: Lance Asti, our main sprint coach, really broke it down for me. We cut down on yardage and it was clear that we had more rest but when it was time to go fast, that was that. You get up and get going just like you would in race, no more of the long sets that would break a stroke down. He made it clear that if you couldn’t get up and get moving race emulation style, then maybe sprinting just isn’t your game. Surprisingly, I’m lifting less… about two times a week with a much bigger focus on dryland such as boxing, heavy ropes, stadiums, tire flipping, etc.
GK: What coach (any coach) made the biggest impact on your career? Why?
BC: I would have to say Betsy Kolm, the head coach of the Midland Dolphins and Midland Barracudas. She laid the foundation for me and I can honestly say I don’t think I would have had DI aspirations if it weren’t for her. She not only helped me as a swimmer but definitely as a person, always giving advice and guiding me through hard times. In fact, I remember specifically the day I made my verbal commitment to Tennessee, she saw me walk into practice a bit on edge which is very out of character of me. She looked at me and said, “I know where you wanna go, you know where you wanna go. Step outside, make the call, and then come back in. We’ve got a practice to do.” She provided this opportunity for me.
GK: Favourite race suit?
BC: I really liked the LZR Racer leg to ankle because there was no restriction in it. One practice I wore a LZR Racer Leg suit under a full body (shoulder to ankle) Blue Seventy. We were doing some fast stuff, so I decided to play around. It felt completely unnatural because I was riding so high in the water.
GK: Junk food of choice?
BC: I’ve got a sweet tooth and it kills me, but I have phases. My go-to is red velvet anything… cake, cheesecake, cake pops. I’m a huge fan.
GK: Indoor or outdoor swimming?
BC: Depends on the situation. If there is a relaxed practice, I would rather do outdoors to get some Vitamin D and enjoy the sun. If it’s a “get down to work” practice, I would rather be indoors because I tend to overheat. There is absolutely nothing better than a Saturday morning practice outside during football season when you can hear the band warming up and smell the tailgate.
GK: LeBron or Jordan?
BC: I’m going Jordan. He’s on a different level than LeBron: the most championships, the most MVP’s. Plus Space Jam is a big selling point for me… I mean Bugs Bunny AND Bill Murray? Winner.
GK: World Series or World Cup?
BC: Wow… I would have to say World Cup. I did give up soccer in high school for swimming so soccer, plus with the World Cup you get a whole month of soccer and the World Series you get, like, 7 games.
Hint: Brad’s a Detroit Tigers fan and cheers for the Netherlands during the world cup.

Comments

  1. jman says:
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    Lance Asti, also a Michigander

  2. Katy Dean says:
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    As a Midland Dolphin/Barracuda Swim Club parent and now General Chair of Michigan Swimming, I couldn’t be more proud to personally know the writer and subject of this article. Both have made our team and our community proud and both have been friend and mentor to my own two champion swimmers. Way to go Brad and Gesse.

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About Gisselle Kohoyda

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Midland, Michigan native Gisselle Kohoyda is all too familiar with life in the pool and on the deck, even with... Read More »