June 26, 2016
By Aimee Ford Foster, Special to Treasure Coast Newspapers
When Kevin Lindgren graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy a year ago, on the heels of the finest swimming performance of his life, he had a choice to make.
Continue training with the goal of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic swim trials in 2016 or end his career by moving into the workforce. He opted to keep training and will swim the 100-meter backstroke in the Olympic trials on Monday.
"In 20 years, I'll be glad I went ahead and went to the trials. It just makes sense to go and enjoy it," Lindgren said. "I didn't want to regret it and say that I didn't go to the meet, that I wanted to start working."
Lindgren, a South Fork graduate from Palm City, took most of his senior year at the academy to make the decision. It was so close, he was interviewing for jobs, and even got hired. As a graduate of the academy, Lindgren is obligated to serve in the naval reserves for eight years and must use his license to work in the marine industry for five years.
But the call of the pool was too strong and he declined the job offer.
"I think initially, in the beginning of my senior year, before swim season started, I was thinking I'd be done with it and I'd start working, get a job, do the whole adult thing," Lindgren said. "But after swim season was over and I passed my license exams for school, with the trials a year away and since I didn't get to go freshman year, I thought it would be kind of cool to go train and try to requalify. By the time senior year ended, I was pretty set on requalifying."
To that end, Lindgren spent the last year training, alternating between Sailfish Splash Water Park for the long-course experience and the Dick Wells Training Center at Martin County High School, where he's done speed work in the shorter pool.
"He called me after (he graduated) and asked what he should do," coach Jim McCombs said. "I said he was a grown up and needed to make his own decision, but that if he wanted to train, I'd sell my soul to do what he needed to make his goals."
McCombs coaches the Martin County swimming club team and has coached Lindgren since he was 8 years old.
"It's been, really challenging because a lot of my workouts are one-on-one with Jim, which is good, but also hard to go 110 percent all the time," Lindgren said. "It's very easy to fall out of the routine because there is no one to chase. It's just me and Jim, or me in the weight room. In college, there were a dozen other people doing the same thing. Here, I'm doing it all on my own."
Lindgren made the cut time for the Olympic trials in May, at a meet in Fort Myers. That achievement completed a path that began four years ago when he qualified for the 2012 Olympic trials, also in the 100 backstroke, at the end of his freshman year. But academic obligations, in the form of his first sea tour for the academy, prevented Lindgren from going that year.
"It just wouldn't work out, really," he said. "I wasn't really disappointed, but it was a bummer that I couldn't go. I think that was the first time that I realized that hard work proves how far you could go ... but I just had to go to sea for school."
Lindgren spent the next three seasons setting records and winning events. His college career culminated at the NCAA Division III Championships in March 2015, where he set school records in six individual events and was part of one record-setting relay team. His name also stands in the academy record books as part of four other record-setting relays from earlier in his career.
"Kevin came in as a very strong swimmer and left an outstanding swimmer," academy coach Sean Tedesco said. "Some of the records he set will be here a long time. He was a special swimmer for us."
Now, Lindgren stands on the threshold of his goal. Although he has no illusions about making the Olympic team — only the top two swimmers in each event do that and his times are not that fast — he will swim at the Trials.
"I will have that experience," he said. "For me, going in, it was the chance to requalify and just go."