This story originally appeared in the Temple (Texas) Daily Telegram on July 7, 2008. It was written by sports staff writer Ryan Schneider.
He’s matter of fact about the challenge that lies ahead.
Stewart Glenister knows he’ll face a tough road just making it out of his qualifying heat in the men’s 50-meter freestyle swimming competition at the Olympics.
Glenister will represent American Samoa, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean where he has deep family ties, in an event he rarely swam before.
Yet, talk to Glenister about the task that awaits him when he arrives in Beijing early next month and there’s not a hint of fear in his voice.
Glenister, a 2007 Temple High School graduate who’s entering his second year attending the U.S. Military Academy, says there’s no need to be nervous. Just getting a chance to go stroke-for-stroke with the world’s best at the Olympics is all he’s wanted, anyway.
“Obviously, this is bigger than anything I’ve ever done before,” he said. “I still want to compete, but it’s going to be a hell of an experience. To say I went to the Olympics, it’s pretty cool.”
. . .
It was supposed to be a meaningless game of football between Glenister, then a senior at Temple, and a group of friends.
Three plays into the game, Glenister stumbled and couldn’t keep his balance. He landed hard on his left leg.
“It just snapped,” he said. “I couldn’t feel the bottom of my leg. I was pretty sure I broke it.”
The fractured femur - which required a titanium rod and a pair of screws - kept him out of the pool for more than a month.
That injury also meant Glenister couldn’t swim for American Samoa in his first international competition at the World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, that same month.
Glenister’s ties to American Samoa are rooted deep in the island nation’s history. His father, Roland, was born and raised there. Glenister’s maternal grandfather, Peter T. Coleman, was appointed the island nation’s first native-born governor and later became its first popularly elected governor in 1978.
The island nation, a U.S. territory, first sent athletes to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Since those games, 13 athletes have represented American Samoa in the summer games.
American Samoa’s Olympic selection committee - including a family member - approached Glenister early this spring about becoming the island nation’s first male Olympic swimmer.
He went through the application process and submitted a rsum detailing his first season competing for Army’s Black Knights swim team and his successful high school and club career.
Three weeks later, Glenister was informed he would be the island nation’s representative in Beijing.
“As a young swimmer, you always dream about going to the Olympics,” he said. “It’s pretty unreal that I’m getting to go.”
The fact that he was representing a nation with such strong roots to his family made the announcement even more special.
“We were very excited and proud that he was able to do this because we’re from there,” Glenister’s mother, Moni, said. “We’re glad that he has this opportunity.”
. . .
The mood quickly changed from excitement to confusion.
It turned out that missing the World Championships was a bigger deal than Glenister first thought.
The injury that kept him out of that meet meant he had no qualifying times recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC allows each country to enter one male or female athlete in a single event if it has no athletes who have met a minimum qualifying time.
Had Glenister been able to swim at the World Championships, there’s a chance he would have met the minimum standards in several events.
Glenister’s best times during his freshman season at Army in the 100-meter freestyle (48.81 seconds) and 100 (53.02) and 200 (1:57.84) butterfly would have met the IOC’s standards.
If Glenister swam any one of those times in Australia, that would likely be the event he would be swimming in Beijing.
Glenister had hoped to swim in his best event, the 200 butterfly. Instead, the IOC chose Glenister’s event and placed him in the 50 freestyle, an event he’s admittedly weak in.
“Swimming is such a specialized sport,’ said Army coach Mickey Wender, who will also serve as American Samoa’s coach in Beijing. “It was a little discouraging.”
Both Glenister and Wender said no reason was given for the decision.
As soon as Glenister found out he’d be heading to Beijing, his summer plans quickly changed.
The U.S. Military Academy had assigned Glenister to serve a four-week assignment at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., followed by cadet field training.
But West Point changed those plans to allow Glenister, who’s planning to major in mechanical engineering, to complete his assignment and train at home.
He would work mornings and early afternoons at Fort Hood, then swim at Temple High School’s Hardin Swim Center later in the day.
In his first season with the Black Knights, Glenister proved himself to be one of the team’s top young swimmers. His times in the 100 and 200 butterfly ranked as the third-fastest on the team.
The strokes and techniques he’d mastered to swim those longer races simply wouldn’t work in a 50-meter sprint.
From his start off the blocks to the number of strokes he’ll make in the water, it was almost like learning to swim all over again.
“I’m more of a slower tempo, kind of endurance racer,” Glenister said. “The 200 butterfly especially, it’s not a sprint. It’s more about endurance. It’s been pretty tough changing the way I swim.”
Glenister had already added 10 pounds to his 5-foot-10-inch, 160-pound frame in his first year at West Point.
Adding muscle was already one of Glenister’s goals for the summer. The Olympic trip simply forced him to speed up that process.
Strength, Glenister says, is one of the biggest keys to sprint swimming.”
But aside from the physical training Glenister has gone through in the last four months to transform himself into a sprinter, it’s the mental preparation that might pay the biggest dividends down the road.
“I have no doubt that having a chance to be a part of it, it’s going to change him,” Wender said. “He will forever be known as an Olympian. It’s going to raise his expectations and give him a different sense of what he’s capable of.”
. . .
Swimming, it seems, is in the Glenister family genes.
All four children of Roland and Moni Glenister took to the water an early age. With the family ties to American Samoa, water sports were a natural fit, especially when they visited relatives on the islands.
But just as important with the Glenisters being a military family, swimming was an easy sport for the children to pick up when they moved. Roland retired from the Army with the rank of command sergeant major after 23 years of service.
After a young Stewart started swimming at 7, it didn’t take long for him to start dreaming.
“Yeah, I’m going to the Olympics,” he would say.
As he got older, Moni recalls, Stewart talked more about having a chance to compete against the world’s best. He wanted his shot on swimming’s biggest stage.
And now that Glenister’s got his chance, he isn’t about to let anything hold him back.
“I just want to see where I can place,” he said. “I just want to try and get up there and race them. I’m going to go for a lifetime best.”