Big Ten Senior Spotlight: Grant Betulius of the University of Iowa

The Big Ten has had its fair share of backstroke studs in recent years with the University of Indiana’s Eric Ress and Penn State University’s Shane Ryan highlighting  some of the fastest performances in NCAA history. The newest breakout star in the conference comes in the form of the University of Iowa’s Grant Betulius, a heavy-hitting sprint specialist out of Naperville, Illinois who has come into his own with his swims over the last three years.

Betulius’ rise to stardom has hardly been an effortless journey. As a true freshman in 2010, Betulius suffered from fractured rib cartilage, an injury that sidelined him for the entire year. Out of the pool for over five months, the injury initially appeared to be a serious hurdle in the multiple-time Illinois State Champion’s career. Granted a medical redshirt due to this complication, it wasn’t until the 2011-12 season that he would ultimately get to swim a complete season for the Hawkeyes.

With some serious motivation guiding his comeback to the sport, Betulius quickly emerged as the fastest sprint backstroker for the Hawkeyes at the conference championships, recording a team-leading finish of 5th in the 100 back (47.30) while also placing 11th overall in the 200 back (1:44.22). His performance in the 100 back eclipsed his own school record of 47.65 from the Hawkeye Invitational earlier that year. Additionally, Betulius led off the 200 medley relay for the Hawkeyes, providing a new school record split of 47.17 to help the team grab 4th overall (3:11.87).

Betulius would only get better the following season, and falling records continued to become a trademark of the sophomore’s NCAA career.  At the 2013 Big Ten Championships, Betulius swam to finishes of 6th in the 100 back (46.70) and 14th in the 200 back (1:44.94, 1:43.65 in prelims), while also contributing legs on the Hawkeyes’ 200 medley relay (1:25.82, 5th), 800 free relay (6:26.79, 6th), 400 medley relay (3:10.19, 3rd), and the 200 free relay (1:19.82, 8th). Notably, both medley relays and the 800 free relays established new school records in the process.

With his performance in the 100 back and the medley relays, Betulius qualified to swim at the 2013 NCAA Championships. He continued to impress at his debut at the national championships, swimming to individual finishes of 13th in the 100 back (46.34) and 32nd in the 200 back (1:43.93). Additionally, Grant also led off the Hawkeyes’ 200 medley and 400 medley relays, helping the team finish 16th (1:26.42) and 14th (3:09.68) respectively. Notably, the Hawkeyes established a new school record in the prelims of the 400 medley relay with a 3:09.66, and Betulius swam a 46.33 backstroke leg on the relay to break his own school record once more.

The 2013-14 season would prove to be a slight damper on Grant’s time progressions, though he remained an instrumental part of Iowa’s scoring effort at the conference championships. He would place 14th in the 100 back (48.29. 47.26 in prelims), 23rd in the 200 back (1:48.67, 1:46.58 in prelims), and 35th in the 100 fly (49.51) while also contributing legs to the Hawkeyes’ 200 medley relay (1:26.33, 6th) and the 400 medley relay (3:11.15, 7th). However, Betulius still retained season-best times of 46.87 in the 100 back and 1:45.43 in the 200 back from the Hawkeye Invitational mid-season meet.

Despite all of the records that Betulius has established or helped set via individuals and relays, it is what he has done this season that is truly the most exciting part of his potential this championship season. At the 2014 Hawkeye Invitational, Betulius swam to career bests in all of his individuals, recording winning times of 45.60 in the 100 back and 1:42.19 in the 200 back, while also taking third overall with a best time of 20.36 in the 50 free. He would also help the Hawkeyes win the 200 medley relay (1:26.60), and though the 400 medley relay ultimately DQ’ed, his lead-off leg of 45.56 is still one of only two NCAA A cuts performed in that event this year (the other belongs to Cal’s Ryan Murphy).

He was also very good on the Hawkeyes’ freestyle relays, providing anchor splits of 19.20 and 42.89 on the team’s winning 200 and 400 freestyle relays. Considering that he’s also a member of the team’s record-setting 800 free relay from 2013, it goes without saying that Betulius will be a showstopper for the University of Iowa each and every time he jumps into the pool next week. Having already punched his ticket to NCAAs, we may not see him swim his fastest at Big Tens, but we will almost certainly still get a preview of what speed the senior has saved up for NCAAs next month. The sky’s the limit as to how fast he will go this championship season, so look for Grant Betulius to find his way on the podium multiple times over the next month.

Best Times (SCY/LCM):
50 Free: 20.36/24.68
100 Free: 46.51/53.52
100 Back: 45.56*/56.34
200 Back: 1:42.19*/2:03.45
100 Fly: 48.41/56.52
200 Medley Relay: 1:25.82*
400 Medley Relay:3:09.66*
800 Free Relay: 6:26.79*

*Denotes school record

School Major: Biomedical Engineering with minor in Business Administration
Favorite Event: 100 Back
Favorite Hobby: Video games when I have time, mostly sport games. I also enjoy following and watching all different sports, college and professional.
Favorite Movie: Dark Knight Trilogy, with Dark Knight(Heath Ledger) being my favorite
My Role Model: It has always been my dad. He is one of the hardest working people I know and he is very family oriented and it’s something that I aspire to be when I grow up.
Favorite Meal: Grilled Steak and Asparagus with garlic bread. My dad makes the best steaks

At what age did you become involved with swimming? How did you get into it?

I have always been very comfortable in the water. I started swim lessons at 5 but I didn’t start competitive swimming until age 8. I started swimming at Fox Valley Swim Club and have been with them through my entire career. My mom swam growing up so she was an influence in the decision to try out swimming.

What is your favorite collegiate swimming memory and why?

My favorite memory so far in my collegiate career would be from 2012 when we hosted the Big Ten Championships. It was my first year competing after being injured my first year at Iowa and the place was packed. There was so much energy and it was the fastest meet I had ever been apart of. There were a lot of alumni that came back to support the team and it gave me a true sense of what it meant to be a part of the Hawkeye swimming community. Specifically from that meet, it was the 2 Big Ten Champion relays that were really exciting to watch and witness them winning and the team and fans were going crazy.

You had an extremely successful mid season meet at the Hawkeye Invitational, where you notched an NCAA A cut and new school record in the 100 backstroke as well as set a new school record in the 200 backstroke. Notably, you are one of only two swimmers in the country who have achieved an A cut in the 100 back (the other being Cal’s Ryan Murphy). How do you think your performances in December set you up for Big Tens and NCAAs this year?

I surprised myself with how fast I swam at our midseason invite and it gave me a lot of confidence in the way that we have been training in the pool and the weight room this year. After a disappointing year last year, it is nice to know that I will be swimming at NCAAs again and it takes a lot of pressure off going into Big Tens. I don’t have to worry about going specific times or racing guys from other conferences to get into the meet, I can focus on racing the guys in the pool and the guys next to me at Big Tens in Iowa City. Once NCAAs comes around, I get to race the best backstrokers from around the nation at home and I am looking forward to that opportunity.

Last season, your old teammate and then-senior Dustin Rhoads, hammered down at the Big Ten Championships to take 6th place overall in the 100 backstroke. Rhoads would go on to compete at NCAAs in that event, where he would take 34th overall. Can you describe what it was like to have a teammate like Dustin to train with during your time at Iowa, and do you feel like he helped elevate your training?

Having teammates that you can surround yourself with day in and day out is crucial to reaching limits you never thought you could. Dustin was a great example of that type of person and teammate and I think that we both pushed each other everyday. By having someone there to push you everyday, you couldn’t take a day off mentally or else you would get beat in practice. Having that competitive environment since day one in my career at Iowa has allowed myself to accomplish what I have and I couldn’t have done it without all of my teammates and coaches throughout the years.

What/who do you think has been the single most important catalyst to your swimming career?

My parents have always supported me throughout my career. They have given me the opportunity to compete at the highest level and have been there for almost all of my meets. Having such supporting parents has made me want to succeed even more and push myself to higher levels. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Do you have any plans/commitments following the completion of your collegiate career?

I am graduating this spring but I am not planning on working a full-time job yet. I want to continue to train through 2016 trials. I haven’t decided where to train yet but I will start looking around once college season ends.

What should we look forward to from Iowa as a whole at this year’s Big Ten Championships?

As a team, we swam lights out at our mid season meet and only shaved a handful of guys and I am really excited to see what all of the other guys can do at Big Ten’s. I think we will surprise some people with how fast we will be after graduating a pretty big class. Hosting the meet will give us a lot of confidence being able to race in our own pool. There will be a lot of energy from the crowd and the team that will push us to swim even faster. I am really excited to see what happens towards the end of the year.

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Grant, if you win, I’ll buy all the boys a round at the finest iowa city establishment you can think of. JK, Airliner or Brothers are the ONLY options

About Varun Shivakumar

Varun Shivakumar hails from Hoffman Estates, IL and swam competitively for 16 years. He swam both backstroke events at Northwestern University, and ranks fifth in the school’s All-time performances list in the 200 yard backstroke. Representing NASA Wildcat Aquatics, he also competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, NE …

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