Ford Story will graduate in his TCU cap and gown the first week of May. He will be wearing his Horned Frogs swimming cap beyond then.
Story has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials this summer. But he has one goal before the trials: Lock up a spot in the NCAA Championships. He has beaten the NCAA “B” cut time in the 100-yard breaststroke, and Horned Frogs coach Richard Sybesma thinks Story needs to improve his time by four-tenths of a second to ensure an invitation to the NCAAs.
The first chance to reach that goal comes this weekend at a time trial in Austin, where last Friday he won a Big 12 championship.
“The NCAAs has been my goal ever since I thought of swimming in college,” said Story, a sociology major. “I didn’t come to TCU on very much of a scholarship, so it’s always been my goal here to improve as much as I can and make a name for myself as much as I can.”
Story emerged from the prelims at the conference meet with the top time and then won the finals in 53.24 seconds, finishing 0.77 ahead of the silver medalist.
“Not by a hair,” Sybesma said, “but clearly dominates the event.”
That made Story the second Horned Frogs swimmer — male or female — to win a Big 12 championship since TCU joined the conference in 2012-13.
In Big 12 swimming, there are the Texas Longhorns and then everybody else. At this year’s conference championships, the Longhorns’ top-ranked men won 40 of the 42 events. Their fourth-ranked women won every event.
Little David beat Goliath that day in one event.
Richard Sybesma, TCU’s swimming coach after Ford Story won a Big 12 championship
“Little David beat Goliath that day in one event,” said Sybesma, TCU’s coach since 1978.
The conference title was quite a feat for someone who a little more than four years ago had not even considered swimming in college.
Story entered his senior year at Houston Stratford a three-year letter winner, and he had placed second as a junior in the 100 breast at the state meet. The first time he thought about swimming in college came when Texas A&M invited him for an official visit.
A friend from high school who told him “all the time” about how much she enjoyed attending TCU, finally convinced him to come to Fort Worth for a visit. Story stopped by the swim office, introduced himself and filled out a recruiting questionnaire.
“I didn’t really get much interest,” he said.
But when Story broke the state record in the 100 breast at the state meet, a TCU coach talked to him at the meet and invited him for an official visit the following week.
“The second I stepped on campus,” he said, “I knew this was where I was supposed to be. I can’t exactly say why. It just felt right. It felt like I belonged here. Ever since that first time I stepped on this campus, I’ve never been happier.”
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Although Story was a high school All-American in the 100 breast and 200 medley relay, he had never swum at the club level. That, Sybesma said, required a major adjustment to training at the college level.
His freshman year, Story dropped two seconds off his 100 breast time. As a sophomore, he cut his time another second and placed second at the Big 12 meet in a photo finish.
“Just by a hair at the finish,” Sybesma recalled.
His junior year, though, he placed fourth at the conference meet with a time more than half a second slower than the previous year.
Sybesma still cannot explain the drop-off.
“I think I was just too stressed about getting first place and getting a fast time,” Story said. “I kind of screwed up my rest and that screwed up the meet for me.”
Whatever the reason, Story vowed not to have a repeat performance his senior year. He stayed in Fort Worth last summer to train. TCU has only a short course, 25-yard pool. He worked out during the summer at the city’s Forest Park 50-meter pool.
“Being a sprint breaststroker who’d only done short course,” Story said, “doing long course was like a living hell.”
After about a month, Story finally became comfortable with the longer pool and the fewer turns and more swim strokes that go with it.
“It was tough at first,” he said. “But once I got the hang of long course, it really helped with my short-course training.”
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The first big payoff came in December at a club meet in Lewisville, which Story entered solely to attempt to make the Olympic trials cut time. Sybesma said Story essentially swam the time trial by himself because he was so far ahead of the others.
Said Story, “Some of [the competitors] looked like they were 12 years old. It wasn’t near the adrenaline kind of swim that I was used to.”
Still, on the long course, Story turned in a time of 1:03.46, below the cut time of 1:03.69.
Having a spot in the trials cleared the way for Story to gear his training to the Big 12 meet and qualifying for NCAAs.
Sybesma rapidly banged his fist twice on his desk to illustrate just how little time four-tenths of a second is. If Story can drop that much time, he believes Story will be one of the 28 swimmers in his event invited to the national championships March 24-26 in Atlanta.
“With the right mental game,” Sybesma said, “he’s got a great chance to make it to the NCAA Championships.”
After that, he will graduate and then travel to Omaha, Neb., for the Olympic trials scheduled for June 26-July 3. Sybesma said Story will have to drop more time before the trials. The goal they have set is to qualify for the finals with one of the top 16 times.
“If you do that,” Sybesma said, “who knows? You never know what you’re going to do when you get the 16 fastest guys in there, who’s going to win it.”
Beyond the trials, Story says there will be a little traveling and his family’s annual beach vacation. Then in August or September, he plans to enter a two- to three-year leadership development program that will prepare him to become general manager of an auto dealership.
But, just in case he can make the trials finals and that “who knows?” happens to him, he is keeping his schedule flexible for a trip to Brazil and the Olympics.
Big task? For sure. But he has brought down Goliath once before.
NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships: March 24-26, Atlanta
U.S. Olympic Team Trials: June 26-July 3, Omaha, Neb.