Nov. 21, 2013
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Grant Betulius didn't realize how much he loved swimming until it was taken away.
Betulius arrived as a freshman on the University of Iowa men's swimming and diving team in August 2010. The Naperville, Ill., native was living a dream with an opportunity to compete in the Big Ten Conference... then his dream disappeared.
Before the season began, Betulius was diagnosed with fractured rib cartilage, an injury that sent him to the pool deck and surgery table.
"It was one of the most challenging things I have had to face so far," said Betulius. "Swimming has always been there and to have it taken away. I was out of the water for five months, the longest I had been out of the water in my life."
Since beginning swimming lessons as an 8-year-old, Betulius has been around water. He also competed in baseball, soccer, and basketball at Neuqua Valley High School, but "one-by-one, each sport dropped and swimming was the only one left."
In high school, Betulius wasn't the best swimmer on his squad. He didn't make varsity until his junior season.
"It fueled me a little bit," he said. "It was always the next step. We had good high school teams, so seeing that high-end competition fueled me to get to the next level. It exposed me to some fast swimming and having those good teammates helped me build on my swimming career."
By the end of his prep swimming days, Betulius was a four-time high school All-American and a three-time first-team and one-time second-team all-state honoree. He was the Illinois high school state champion in the 200-yard medley relay and 100 backstroke.
As a junior, Betulius set his sights on continuing collegiately, and he knew he wanted to continue swimming in the Big Ten Conference. His parents -- Joe and Sue Betulius -- graduated from Purdue University. Joe played football for the Boilermakers.
Betulius took trips to Purdue, Iowa, Indiana, and Northwestern with his father. When he visited the UI, Betulius knew the moving parts aligned.
"I was looking at the Big Ten, and when I visited here, I knew it was the right place," he said. "I knew I would fit into the team, there were good academics and team atmosphere, and it would be the right place for me to succeed."
Betulius' first season in Iowa City didn't go as planned. The surgery forced him to sit out the entire season.
"That year showed his determination," said UI head coach Marc Long. "It's difficult in any sport to sit out and watch your teammates compete while you're battling to stay fit. He showed determination."
Betulius returned to the pool in 2011-12, where he led the Hawkeyes in the 100 backstroke, posting a school-record time of 47.17 seconds at the Big Ten Championships. He posted collegiate bests in both the 100 and 200 backstroke events at the championships, but narrowly missed out on advancing to the NCAA Championships.
As a sophomore, Betulius earned honorable mention All-America honors in three events at the 2013 NCAA Championships. He finished 13th individually in the 100 back, while swimming the backstroke leg of the 200 and 400-medley relays.
At season's end, Betulius was an Iowa record-holder in four events (100 back, 200-medley relay, 400-medley relay, 800-free relay), while having the second-best time in the 200 back.
"I just missed qualifying for NCAAs my freshman year," said Betulius. "I knew I had things I could work on. Strength training was a big step for me, continuing to get stronger, and that will help me this year as well. That was the biggest step I made, along with the other technical improvements, in the water."
Betulius says his first NCAA experience made him eager to return.
"Going to the NCAAs, being there and competing against the best, opens your eyes," he said. "Even though I was 13th in the 100 back, there are still 12 other people that are better. Being there and watching makes me hungry, and I am gaining more confidence. I know what I need to do to keep moving up."
Long says the next step for Betulius is to be a swimmer in title discussions.
"He needs to continue progressing and racing for titles," said Long. "You want to be in the top-eight at NCAAs. Just making NCAAs in our sport is world-class because it is such an international event. For him to compete and get 13th as a sophomore, that's impressive. It's time for him to move up and have higher expectations."
That's the plan for Betulius. He doesn't set time goals for himself, but he uses benchmarks to get him through the rigors of a grueling season.
"I have some internal goals, and I think about them a lot," he said. "It helps me get through practices and meets, but I am focusing on the end of the year, going into the Big Ten Championships and NCAAs and improving on what I have done to continue improving these next two years."
Betulius thinks often about the injury that cost him his true freshman season.
"I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder because of it," he said. "Sitting out those five months made me realize how much I love swimming. I enjoy doing it and having it taken away, and coming back, it still fuels me.
"Training is easy compared to what I had to do to go through with that injury. It allows me to push through some of the tough days, weeks, and long winter training camps. Having (the injury) has helped me -- at the time it didn't seem like it -- but it still fuels me today."
Iowa returns to the pool Dec. 6-8, hosting the Hawkeye Invitational at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center Pool. Preliminaries begin at 10 a.m. (CT) all three days, while final sessions are set for 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday.