Racking up an unheard-of 37 NCAA titles, superstar swimmers Gretchen and Alex Walsh have left an incredible mark at the University of Virginia.

Their accolades extend way beyond the collegiate realm, as the two have competed on the U.S. National Team, and boast an impressive seven world titles between the long and short course championships, as well as a Tokyo 2020 silver medal.

This is the story of the sensational sister duo. Alex and Gretchen Walsh.

With every dip and glide through the cool waters of the University of Virginia Swimming Pool, Alex and Gretchen drew a stroke closer to their grand ambition: the Olympics. This place was more than a pool for them; it was their battlefield, a concrete symbol of the sweat, tears, and sheer determination they poured into each practice.

Under the watchful eye of Coach Todd DeSorbo, they didn’t just train for another competition; they were in the throes of becoming athletes who could carry their dreams onto the world’s biggest stage,

Yet, the path to glory wasn’t a smooth swim. Facing the glare of media attention and the heavy burden of expectations added an extra layer of challenge.

But where did this all start and how did these two sisters who stand at over 6 feet tall, first make a splash in the pool?

Well as you may or may not have guessed, swimming runs in the family. The Walsh sister’s mother swam competitively and was captain of the Boston College women’s swim team. Early in their swimming journey, the Walsh family moved to Old Greenwich, Connecticut, where they started on the YWCA Dolphins. They later joined the Chelsea Piers Aquatic Club in Stamford, Connecticut and swam in the summers for the Rocky Point Club.

Alex first made headlines at the age of 12 when she broke three 11–12 girl’s national age group records in the 100 yard individual medley, 100 yard backstroke, and 200 yard breaststroke at the Connecticut Age Group Championships. As a 12-year old, her 200 yard breaststroke time set a new pool record at the local University.

Can you imagine a 12 year old breaking a pool record at a University natatorium. That’s either embarrassing for the University, or a tell tale sign that a legend was developing.

On the other side of the house, Gretchen became the youngest swimmer to qualify for the 2016 US Olympic Trials. In addition to being the youngest qualifier, at just 13 years of age, she was also the youngest swimmer to compete as well. 

In 2014, the Walsh family moved to Nashville, Tennessee and competed for the Nashville Aquatic Club. As a 13-year old, Alex qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials in the women’s 100 and 200 meter backstroke events and later that year broke one of Missy Franklin’s national age group records.

Through high school the Walsh sisters competed internationally winning titles, breaking records, and starting to make a formidable name for themselves.

It’s no surprise that these two super stars were heavily recruited to compete at the top universities in the United States. It’s fitting they landed at the University of Virginia led by coach Todd DeSorbo. He has led Virginia to four consecutive NCAA Championships in his seven years since being named head coach in 2017. In the summer of 2024 he will represent the United States at the Summer Olympic Games in Paris as the women’s team head coach.

In the University setting, the pool turned into their home away from home, a place where every lap made them stronger and more determined. It wasn’t just about spending extra hours in water or swimming farther distances; it was about fine-tuning both their physical and mental game to face the high stakes of the NCAA championships and eventually US Olympic Trials.

Then came the media spotlight, adding a whole new level of pressure. Now, it wasn’t just about beating our personal bests or the clock but also living up to what the swimming world and our fans expected of them. One can only imagine the stress and pressure they must have felt.

Up until 2021, collegiate athletes weren’t allowed to earn money with brand deals, but when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of collegiate athletes being able to profit off of their name, image and likeness (NIL), the sisters took full advantage of the new opportunities that presented themselves.

They used their following to promote themselves and their brand, and became the first collegiate athletes in history to create a co-branded swimsuit collection with a nationally recognized brand.

Together with the brand, they launched their personal collection and the merchandise went flying off the online shelves and into the drawers of swimmers across the United States.

The collections were fun and colorful, and inspired by their individual personalities.

“We have very different personalities, so it was special to be able to have our own suits and then also suits that we worked on together. I think that is very really representative of our relationship and our dynamic,” they told Sports Illustrated in an interview.

Alex’s first collection is called “Nashville,” where the sisters were born and attended high school.

Gretchen’s first collection, “Barcelona,” was inspired by the city where the sisters swam in their first international meet.

Even with all these extra curricular activities, Alex and Gretchen remained committed to the pool. Their performances in the water continued to shock and awe. Just when you thought they couldn’t get any faster, they did it again.

In the 2024 season, Gretchen broke the NCAA record in the four fastest events in college swimming. The 50 Freestyle, 100 Freestyle, 100 Backstroke, and 100 Butterfly. Her 19.95 relay split in the 50 freestyle makes her the first woman to ever break 20 seconds. 

Her times were outrageous and left the commentators speechless. She won seven events and her sister Alex won six events at the NCAA Championships.

Ryan Lochte, Caeleb Dressel, Kate Douglass and Léon Marchan have also won 3 individual NCAA titles with record time in the same Championships. Can you see a pattern? Yes, international success

Their swims showcase what’s possible both above and below the water.

In a 25 yard pool, it’s a marvel to watch.

Swimmers can spend 65% of a race under water versus 30% of an Olympic race. The rule for both is that they must break the surface 15 meters after each wall.

The Walsh sisters have turned their swims into a work of art. It’s a masterclass in underwater work, speed, and technical expertise in the water.

In the pursuit of excellence, competition has its own set of curveballs even to the best of the best. There were unexpected hiccups, a false start here, goggles filling with water there, misjudging a turn. Falling short of expectations to make an international team. Those moments are tests that even the best swimmers on the planet must overcome.

This is a reminder to us of how crucial it is to be adaptable, mentally strong, and endlessly persistent. These traits go beyond sports, applying to every part of our lives, encouraging us to chase our ambitions fearlessly, and tackle challenges gracefully.

The demanding preparation highlights the sisters’ commitment to their craft and foreshadows the challenges they must overcome to achieve their Olympic dreams.

The journey to the Olympics is no small feat, and for sisters Alex and Gretchen, their dedication truly sets the stage for the mountainous hurdles they’re eager to leap over in their quest for an Olympic legacy.

Every lap in the pool is more than just cutting through water quickly; it is a display of their steadfast dedication and the strong bond they share. Their story started as humble age-group swimmers and today they have training schedules that test not only their physical limits but also their mental resilience—showing us that what it takes to compete at such a high level isn’t just about physical strength but also about having an ironclad mindset amid the pressure and high expectations.

This story is still being written, but it brings light to a powerful message. Achieving greatness, whether in swimming or life,is not a solo effort. The deep connection between the sisters, their teamwork, and the quiet support from their family and friends highlight a fundamental truth we all share: while our goals are personal, attaining them is a collective effort, intertwined with the hopes and challenges of those around us.

For anyone who’s ever dove headfirst into a dream, be you a swimmer, coach, or admirer of the human spirit, Alex and Gretchen’s story does more than just offer a peek into the world of competitive swimming. It serves as a beacon, reminding us that as we chase after our own versions of excellence, be it at the Olympic trials or life’s daily hurdles, it’s our ability to adapt, our perseverance, and our sense of community that truly carry us to the finish.

The next few months and years will be exciting for the Walsh sisters and we can’t wait to watch their story develop. Let us know how you think they’ll do this season and happy swimming 🙂

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