It was on Wednesday, March 16, at the Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Natatorium in Indianapolis, Indiana when Kevin Gillooly finally reached the peak of his collegiate swimming career: becoming a National Collegiate Atheltic Association (NCAA) Champion.
As Gillooly touched the wall in the 50-yard freestyle finals with a time of 19.50 at the NCAA Division III Championships, five years of hard work and dedication had finally paid off in the exact way he had imagined.
“From the very first day I ever stepped foot on this campus, that was the goal we set for,” Gillooly said. “It’s certainly a huge weight off my chest, because I’ve been thinking about it every single day… I mean, really, for the past five years of my career as I’ve been leading up to this point. So it’s really fulfilling.”
When the Cherry Hill native started his career at Rowan University, he came in with not only high hopes but equally high expectations from Head Coach Brad Bowser.
“The one thing I will say– when Kevin came in, Kevin came in with the previous National Champion in Jesse Novak leaving,” Coach Bowser said. “So, Kevin was really walking into a set of shoes that he didn’t know how to fill quite yet, and he really stepped up and did that.”
In his journey to reach the same heights as Novak had, Gillooly had an abundance of success. From receiving numerous New Jersey Athletic Conference honors to having All-American performances at previous NCAA Championships, to even qualifying for the 2021 Olympic Trials.
He also faced roadblocks along the way, the biggest being losing out on competing in both the 2020 and 2021 NCAA Championships due to COVID-19. The setback, however, has made each moment much more special.
“This time was definitely rewarding basically because we came off of COVID and having that year gap,” Coach Bowser said. “And for him, [after] making the Olympic Trials… the next goal was to be a National Champion.”
With 2022 being the first time Gillooly had returned to the NCAA Championships since 2019, and this being his last chance to achieve his ultimate goal, the build-up to the actual race was intense.
“Just stepping foot into that facility and seeing the NCAA banners and seeing the colors of the lane lines, the blue and white, it was double lane lines they have at NCAA Championships. Every single thing about it, that atmosphere that I’ve experienced before, it absolutely came full circle. It was just a surreal experience,” Gillooly said. “I just kind of stood there on top of the podium, looking out at the entire pool and just kind of visualizing everything that was to come.”
Despite the fact that the experience was a lot for Gillooly to take in, he knew he had to stay focused on his goal.
“It was overwhelming to be back there,” Gillooly said. “But I knew that, in that moment, I was not going to let that opportunity slip away from me again.”
When it was time to get the job done, Gillooly did exactly that and was able to leave Indianapolis with the title he always dreamed of. Now, he returns to Glassboro as one of Rowan’s few national champions on campus.
“I know for the first few days after it occurred, it was hard for that reality to really set in. I was very overwhelmed after the fact,” Gillooly said. “I know that night I kind of just sat there in the locker room before getting changed after my race, just hanging my head and I was just bawling… tears of joy just because I wasn’t necessarily happy with the time that I went or with the performance itself, but I can’t be upset about a National Championship.”
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