By Mike Watkins//Correspondent | Friday, June 2, 2017
Through his own personal experience, P.J. Ransford has learned that swimmers tend to do very well in school.
It was that way at his high school and has been that way during his years as a swimmer and student at the University of Michigan.
He thinks the demanding practice schedule that lasts all year teaches swimmers at a young age how to manage time and stay on top of their school work.
It’s definitely something that Ransford learned and adapted to his own life – and it paid off this year when he received the 2017 Elite 80 Award for the sport of swimming. The honor is given to the student-athlete with the top GPA at each NCAA championship meet.
True-to-form as the consummate team player, he gives credit to his teammates for his individual accomplishments in and out of the water and takes great pride in doing so.
“To me, this award just showcased how much our team strives to succeed both in and out of the pool,” he said. “Our team places such a high emphasis on academics, and it shows with how well we do.”
An engineering major at Michigan, Ransford credits his ability to stay organized and not procrastinate as two main reasons he does so well in school. Both translate equally successfully to his results in the pool.
While he admits this past NCAA season was both disappointing individually and to an extent from a team standpoint, as far as his national and international results are concerned, Ransford is enjoying some of his best results and has been for the past couple of years.
Following last summer at Olympic Trials – where he finished fifth in the 1500 freestyle – Ransford was named to the 2017 National Team and will be a strong contender to earn a spot on another international team at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships later this month.
This came on the heels of him competing last December at Short Course World Championships.
“Being named to the National Team is always a huge honor,” he said. “Last winter, I actually had the opportunity to compete for our National Team for the first time and that was an incredible experience. I don't think it puts any extra pressure on me, but I also haven't been in a position yet where I'm trying to defend a spot on a Worlds or Olympic team.
“I've been fortunate to be near the top of the country in time rankings these past few seasons, but I have always been one of the guys trying to break into that top-two finish. I still feel like I'm chasing the guys in front of me and not worried about protecting my spot on the team.”
Ransford started his move forward last summer at Olympic Trials when he finished fifth in the 1500 freestyle – this coming a year after he finished third in the same event at Phillips 66 National Championships the previous summer.
It’s a far cry from the 5-year-old Ransford who originally had fun swimming with his friends at the local summer pool but said he wasn’t very good.
His first race was a 25-yard backstroke, and it took him 1:55 to finish the race – which was captured on video for posterity. His family watches it periodically for a “good laugh.”
“It was outdoors, so I zig-zagged between lane lines the whole race; I have to believe I swam more than 50 yards during that single lap,” he said. “The best part was that when I finished, I thought I had won, because nobody else was at the wall.
“My next race was much better. I think I dropped to like 1:10-1:15, and my mom saved that best time ribbon since she thought it was hilarious. I've gotten a bit better since then.”
Despite his third-place result, Ransford said 2015 Nationals proved a difficult meet for him because of the extreme heat in the outdoor competition pool. And while he wasn’t thrilled with his times, his performance did show him that he can swim the mile two days in a row.
It’s something he and his distance teammates at Michigan practice daily, so he was prepared for what was coming – and he duplicated the feat last summer in Omaha against a much stronger field.
Ransford said training with 2016 Olympic silver medalist Connor Jaeger and distance specialists Sean Ryan and Ryan Feeley day-in and day-out in Ann Arbor the past few years has more than given him the stamina and speed necessary to be competitive against other U.S. and international swimmers.
“It definitely helps to have guys like that around; they push everyone in the pool to get better, and just raise the level of the team,” said Ransford, who hails from Pittsford, N.Y. “I think one of the biggest things I learned from swimming with Connor was how to train.
“I've gotten so much better at training these past three years, and I think having two years of swimming next to someone who just went out and crushed practices every day has been one of the main reasons.”
He said it was the distance tradition at Michigan that led him to Ann Arbor – although he said he doesn’t feel any pressure to be the next Jaeger, Tom Dolan or Peter Vanderkaay.
“I think our success comes from the culture that's been passed down for years in our distance group,” he said. “We just go out every day and work our but off, and know that if we do that, the racing will take care of itself. We just are a part of the group and a part of the tradition.”
With this year’s Nationals just a few weeks away, Ransford said he has been working hard since NCAAs and some decent swims at the Arena Pro Swim in Atlanta a few weeks ago let him know he’s on the right path to be competitive in Indianapolis.
He said he has a couple more weeks of hard work before he starts his taper, and he’s competing in the Namesnik Invitational in Ann Arbor this weekend as a final tune-up.
“I really feel like the mile is pretty wide open for making the World team this year,” said Ransford, who will graduate in December and plans to start his graduate education at Michigan immediately after that. “I think Jordan (Wilimovsky) is the favorite to win, but there's a whole crowd of people who I think will be challenging for the second spot. It should be an exciting race at the end.
“I definitely believe I can challenge for a Worlds or World University Games (WUG) spot this summer. It would be incredible for me, because it's what I've been working for every summer since I've gotten to Michigan. It was great getting to go to Short Course World's especially since so many of my teammates were there with me, and I think swimming in that meet has given me invaluable experience going forward.”