While walking out of the locker room before Cal’s dual meet against Stanford, Lucas Henveaux caught a glimpse at the Cal school record board and had a fleeting thought: Where could he see himself on that board?
“I saw the records and I’m like, I wonder if there’s one of them that I could beat,” Henveaux said. “I thought the 1000 free seemed kind of doable.”
Straight out of Belgium, Henveaux was only swimming in his second dual meet ever for Cal. He had clocked an impressive 8:57.64 1000 free against USC a week prior, but even so, that record he had been eyeing was nearly seven seconds faster than his best time—a 8:46.45 held by Nick Norman.
But Cal was suiting up against a rival Pac-12 school and the stands were packed, so Henveaux thought he had a shot. And that shot hit the bullseye, because he ended up going 8:45.39, crushing the former school record by over a second.
Was the swim surprising? Yes. But surprise is the definition of Henvaux’s entire career—he’s never been one to limit himself with confined goals. In fact, after swimming the semifinals of the 200 free at the European Championships last summer, he said he was “pissed” watching giants like David Popovici and Thomas Ceccon win titles and break world records, knowing that he wasn’t at their level yet.
At that time, Herveaux had only been swimming seriously for two years following a long hiatus from the sport, and he was semifinaling at the biggest meet in his continent. And yet, he was pissed.
“I saw all these athletes and was like, physically, I don’t think they have more than me,” Henveaux said. “So it really motivated me to see them, and analyzing their technique and race strategies gave me a lot of good lessons to continue improving.”
Henveaux’s “go-all-out” mindset was what led him to more breakout NCAA success, as a week after breaking the 1000 free school record, he went on to have three big swims at Pac-12s. He finished second in the 500 free (4:11.16), eighth in the 400 IM (3:42.67), and third in the 1650 free (14:48.84), scoring 44 points for the Golden Bears and earning himself a trip to the NCAA Championships.
The Bears go 1-2 in the 500 free!
1. Gabriel Jett 4:09.66
2. Lucas Henveaux 4:11.16
— Cal Men's Swim & Dive (@calmenswim) March 3, 2023
And all this time, swim fans thought: Where did this guy come from, and how did he get so good?
The answer to this question might surprise you, as seven years ago, the NCAA’s big second-semester breakout star had been ready to drop swimming for another sport.
From There And Back And There Again
Henveaux was roped into swimming at a young age—his dad, Andres Henveaux, is the head coach of Belgian swim club Liege Natation and owns a local pool. Meanwhile, he also played golf. Henveaux competed in both sports simultaneously throughout most of his childhood, but at age 15, he saw no future in swimming.
“I was 5’4 and around 100 pounds, and all the other guys were just destroying me because they were much bigger.” Henveaux said. “I was tired of getting beat by everyone because I was so small, and I quit.”
“I was like, I’ll never be six foot, so there’s no point in me trying,” he added.
Meanwhile, Henveaux’s golf skills were beginning to progress. He stopped swimming seriously and began focusing on golf after his sophomore year of high school, and saw himself rise up the Belgian junior rankings. Upon graduating high school in 2017, he spent a year at the Sotogrande International School in Spain, where he studied and practiced golf for six hours a day. Then, in fall 2018, he moved to the United States with eyes set on being a pro golfer, and joined the University of South Carolina-Beaufort’s team to play in the NAIA.
However, in his first season of college golf, Henveaux was facing the same roadblock he faced in swimming. It became evident that the atmosphere of golf was much more competitive in the U.S., and he just felt like he wasn’t good.
“I was practicing a lot more than some of the other guys on the team, and I wasn’t seeing the improvements that I’d hope to see,” Henveaux said. “There was still a big gap between where I was and where I needed to be if I wanted to achieve something really good as a pro golfer.”
Due to his frustrations with golf, Henveaux left the United States after the 2018-19 season and returned to Belgium. He enrolled in university to pursue a degree in international business as a NARP (non-athletic regular person), and spent his first few months at home away from sports. At the same time, his younger sister Camile Henveaux, an eventual European juniors qualifier, was beginning to amp up her swim training.
Due to the constant presence of both his dad and sister in the sport, Henveaux started swimming again for fun. He also gained more confidence as a swimmer—in his college years, he grew to a height of 6’4 and was no longer the small guy in the water.
When COVID-19 lockdowns ended in late 2020, Henveaux went back into serious swim training, and he began a two-year stretch of doing 10-11 high volume, high-intensity practice sessions per week.
At first, Henveaux was not swimming fast after his long break. At the end of 2020, his best time was a 2:00.26 in the long course 200 free, the event that he ended up qualifying to swim at Euros two years later. But this time around, his mindset shifted. Instead of being deterred by his failures like the way he was during his first swimming stint and as well his golf career, he let them motivate him.
“Obviously, I hate losing,” Henveaux said. “But when I’m at big meets with elite swimmers, I look at them as a way to get better.”
“Like when I go to Pac-12s and we’re losing to ASU, but I see [Leon] Marchand swim and I’m like, maybe I need to work on myself, you know?” he added.
This resurgence into swimming was also when Henveaux stopped placing limits on himself.
“I didn’t say ‘oh, I’d like to swim 1:52 or you know, go to nationals and medal at nationals’,” Henvaux said. “It was more about being the fastest I can be.”
One thing led to another, and by April 2022, Henveaux had dropped to best times of 1:48.30 in the 200 free, 3:51.99 in the 400 free, and 8:06.70 in the 800 free. Around that same time, Henveaux’s performances were beginning to attract the attention of Cal assistant coach David Marsh.
The Impact Of Cal
David Marsh and Henveaux’s father had a mutual friend, Marc Huberty. In the spring of 2022, Huberty hosted an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Liege Nation club, where invited swimmers raced the most obscure event—the 33-yard freestyle.
That 33-yard freestyle event was where Marsh and Henveaux first met.
While Marsh was impressed with Henveaux’s times and his stroke, Henveaux believes that the Cal assistant also liked his attitude and passion towards swimming. He calls himself a student of the sport, which was also evident throughout our conversation—he constantly broke out into spiels on the techniques of swimmers like Marchand and Popovici while we were talking.
“It’s just poetry, you know?” Henveaux said of Popovici’s stroke. “It’s just so flowing, and stuff with how good his catch is, how fast his recovery is over the water, how stable his hips are, etc.”
“I feel like if you’re someone swimming right now and you don’t look at Marchand’s underwaters or Popovici’s stroke and you don’t learn from that, I think you’re going to be left behind because they do so many things better than everyone,” he added.
A few months after Henveaux’s meeting with Marsh, he began receiving texts from Cal head coach Dave Durden, who gave him an offer about a month prior to Euros. Having enrolled in college four years before the 2022-23 season, Henveaux still had at least one year of NCAA eligibility left, and Cal seemed like a match made in heaven—he was drawn to the team and the coaching staff, wanted a school that was strong academically (he got his undergrad degree in Belgium after three years, and is currently doing a certificate program in entrepreneurship at Cal), and liked the competitiveness of the NCAA.
“Swimming in the NCAA is obviously very appealing,” Hevenaux said. “People from our team, you know, like Bjorn [Seeliger] and Destin [Lasco] are the fastest in the world. For me, coming here was a no-brainer.”
Henveaux said his first few months at Cal were nothing but positive—his teammates welcomed him with open arms, and he was impressed by the way the coaching staff handled the team, saying that there “wasn’t another place in the world that has the same quality of coach that [Cal] does.”
Furthermore, after swimming mainly by himself in Belgium, the team environment at Cal was life-changing for Henveaux.
“[Cal] helped me imagine another way of swimming,” Henveaux said. “Having this team, and how much you can trust the next person and have them build motivation is something I’ve never really had that much, and it can make a really big difference.”
“This group here has really changed my life. The stuff I see in practice and the energy everyone brings every day is really great.”
Headed into NCAAs, Henveaux’s mindset remains the same—no hard goals, but contributing as much as he can for the team. At Pac-12s, he thought he swam his 500 free final the wrong way and went out too fast in the 1650 free, and wants to work on those things come time for the grand finale.
Currently, Henveaux is seeded seventh in the 500 free, 29th in the 400 IM, and 18th in the 1650 free. As one of Cal’s top distance swimmers, his potential points will be crucial in helping the Bears try to defend their NCAA title in the competitive team race at this year’s men’s meet.
“I’m not gonna sit here and say ‘oh, I want to get three A finals or get a medal’. If I’m too concentrated on the results, I might get lost in the craziness of the meet,” Henveaux said. “I just want to be focused on my routine and just get all the little things right so I can swim three really good races and contribute to Cal.”
And as for golf? He might be done pursuing it as a career and didn’t bring his clubs to Cal, but doing the sport for fun was never out of the question. After all, as proven by Michael Phelps, the swimming-to-golf pipeline is very much a real thing.