By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, October 19, 2018
To say that Gabby DeLoof’s rise up the USA Swimming rankings the past couple of seasons has been meteoric is an understatement.
The Michigan senior, who completed her college eligibility with the Wolverines earlier this spring but won’t graduate until this December, has gone from 40th in the 200 freestyle two years ago at Olympic Trials to third at this summer’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships.
So, what’s been the secret to her recent success you might wonder?
It’s really no secret at all.
“I have really focused on having fun with the sport of swimming and not getting hard on myself when things don't go as planned,” said DeLoof, the second-oldest of four swimming sisters (Ali, 24, Gabby, 22, Catie, 21 and Jackie 19) who grew up in Grosse Pointe, Mich. “But, with that being said, swimming is so unpredictable so I don't set ‘goal times.’
“I do set goals to make the National team or make an A final at NCAAs, etc., but ultimately I know each time I swim I give it everything I have got, no matter the outcome.”
DeLoof has also been working with her coach, Rick Bishop, who has helped her grow at an “unbelievable pace” and help her to develop and believe that she is a great swimmer and can compete at the top.
She said she definitely feels like she is hitting her swim stride now – albeit a bit later than some swimmers.
But she wouldn’t change the path she’s taken to get where she is now for anything.
“I give a lot of credit to those swimmers like Regan Smith who are competing at the elite level at such a young age,” she said. “It is truly amazing, but I feel as if I am more appreciative of my swimming ability and know what I am capable of after advancing each year of my college career.
“I love to work hard and give a 110 percent at everything I do, in and out of the pool. Katlyn Haycock has been a tremendous help in my strength and conditioning as well at Michigan.”
All that hard work paid off for DeLoof at Phillips 66 Nationals this year, when she took the bronze medal in the 200 free – earning a spot on this past summer’s Pan Pacific Championship team and next summer’s World Championship team as a member of the 800 freestyle relay.
She also was recently named to the 2019 World University Games team, where she will swim individual as well as relay events for the United States – all as further preparation for her to achieve her Olympic dream.
“Making an Olympic Team is something that I have dreamed of and talked to my sisters about especially after this summer,” she said. “We (she and her sisters) would talk about how cool it would be and what an honor it is to represent your country and be part of that pride, but it has definitely become more of a reality within the past year.”
DeLoof got involved with swimming when she was 7, following her older sister (and former National Team swimmer) Ali to the pool. Their two younger sisters – who both also swim for the University of Michigan – followed suit and joined them in the water.
She said she saw Ali having a lot of fun with her friends and was pretty good when she started out so her parents decided that all the girls should give it a try.
But swimming wasn’t her only sports love. When she was younger, she played soccer, basketball and ran track while swimming year around.
She started focusing on swimming in the eighth grade and continued to pursue it during high school.
“I chose swimming because my sisters and I loved to do it, but also because of the friendships that I made during the summer,” DeLoof said. “We swam for the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club (summer league team) until we were too old to swim for them anymore, but that is when I saw my potential and had the most fun with my friends.”
Once all four sisters were in the water, they began talking and dreaming about the future – not necessarily about being on Olympic teams together or who might make the “big time” first in swimming.
A dream they had and shared was swimming in college together, on relays, and racing in events together, although because of the four-plus-year age gap between Ali and Jackie it never happened.
“It has been an awesome four years with all of them,” said Gabby, who was able to swim with all of her sisters at Michigan and continues to live with them and train in Ann Arbor as part of Club Wolverine Elite.
And now that she’s made her first National team appointment and will be competing in two of the biggest international meets next summer for the United States, DeLoof said she feels like she’s “arrived” – and she’s more than OK that she may have gotten here a little later than others.
For her, it’s definitely been more about the journey than the destination – and the entire experience of attaining her swim dreams has given her a much more mature and appreciative perspective.
“It is such an honor to be able to represent the US at this level and compete amongst the best in the world,” said DeLoof, who will finish her degree in Sport Management in December and wants to pursue a career in sports marketing, community relations or sponsorships after her competitive swimming career. “This past summer was my summer to see if I was going to continue swimming or not based on how Nationals went. I was super excited to see how well I did and it helped motivate me to continue to strive for 2020.
“I went into Nationals with no expectations and then to achieve everything at once, I was speechless and on Cloud 9. I knew everything over the past four years of training and hard work led me to that point and it was an incredible feeling. It was an amazing way to spend the summer.”