The swimming and diving program at Tufts University helped Roger Gu rediscover his love for the sport.
A junior sprinter who is a biomedical engineering major, the Ashland High graduate won the program’s first individual swimming national title in 37 years. Gu captured the NCAA Division 3 championship in the 50-yard freestyle (19.49 seconds) in Greensboro, N.C., on March 20.
In his victory over Emory University senior Trey Colleck (19.69), Gu also broke both the school and New England Small College Athletic Conference records.
Gu was a two-time Tri-Valley League MVP (2015, 2016) at Ashland. However, two weeks into his freshman season at Tufts, he nearly quit the swim team. But the culture created by his coaches and Jumbo teammates convinced him to stay.
Smart move. He’s an All-American in four individual events and seven relays as a Jumbo.
Gu paced Tufts to a 10th-place team finish at the Division 3 nationals and also recorded a runner-up finish in the 100-yard freestyle (43.70 seconds), as well as swimming legs on the runner-up 200 free relay (1:20.66), the seventh-place 400 free relay (3:01.07), and the seventh-place 200 medley relay (1:29.44).
The 200 free relay’s placement was the best ever for a Tufts’ foursome at nationals.
The Globe got a chance to catch up with Gu after his historic junior season.
Q. What does it mean to be able to bring a national swimming title to Tufts for the first time since 1982?
It was pretty crazy because that actually wasn’t really my goal. I’ve always seen swimming as if I’m improving, then I’m happy with that . . . When I was walking back to the awards, I had my phone in my parka and some guy was holding it for me, and he was like ‘your phone is blowing up right now.’ The amount of e-mails and texts from my friends was definitely humbling.
Q. Did you set a goal of being an All-American?
A. Coming out of high school, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to swim at all but I always kept it open as an option because in high school, swimming wasn’t ever super serious for me. I always did it more for fun, and then two weeks into my first season here, I almost quit the team because it was so much more training then I was used to. The camaraderie between the team along with the support of the coaches made me stay, and I’m happy I made that choice.
Q. You made history at Tufts, with the individual title, and relay finish. How do you feel about the accomplishment?
A. It’s a huge honor. Meeting all the alumni, and knowing I’m a part of what they’re a part of is super cool. That relay was the highlight of my meet. I was actually more excited about that then I was winning the 50 free just because seeing all my teammates on that relay really show up was awesome.
Q. Does your approach change now?
The times I swam were pretty good but there’s definitely still things to improve on. Personally, I don’t swim very much in the offseason. I find that taking a break from the pool is pretty beneficial for me and I like lifting so I’ll stick to that pretty often during the offseason.
Q. What do you focus on in the pool to make sure you’re performing at the best of your ability?
A. Our practices are very focused on what you swim, so for me I did a lot of split practices but there are definitely times where we do more aerobic work. Even though a set may not feel like it applies to my race directly, I think it’s important to still try and see the value in everything.
Q. What’s your end-game with swimming?
A. I hope that I keep swimming throughout my entire life. I like the water a lot and would definitely miss it if I stopped after college. Maybe not competitively but leisurely for sure. Coaching sounds like an interesting possibility and it would be really cool to be able to give back to a sport that has given me so much.
Thomas Herron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.