Gruvberger makes a Big Red splash

Former Central standout overcame initial adversity to excel on campus, in the pool

Anna Gruvberger's Cornell University swim career got off to an inauspicious start. No start, actually, as the pandemic washed away her entire 2020-21 freshman season.

So the Hinsdale product and her fellow first-year team members did the next best thing: they signed up for freshman swim class.

"They allowed the pool to be used for gym classes but not for the swim team. They let us use some special lanes, and we just had a lot of fun with each other," Gruvberger said.

Having that community of fellow student-athletes was a blessing during a time when social distancing protocols kept many isolated.

"I had a group and a built-in family with the swim team. Each of us helped each other get through it," she related.

The long-awaited kick-off to her Big Red career came sophomore year, and the 2020 Hinsdale Central grad made up for lost time becoming an integral part of the squad in individual events - specializing in butterfly and freestyle - and in relays.

Over the course of the season, she registered four individual top-3 finishes and three relay triumphs. Against St. Bonaventure she took third in the 200-yard butterfly and first with the 200-yard freestyle relay. Then at Brown University, she finished third in the 100-yard freestyle, second in the 100-yard butterfly, first in the 400-yard freestyle relay and second in the 200-yard medley relay.

"It was great making an impact in that way. Being able to swim against the best in our league and just competing with teammates on those relays was really fun," Gruvberger said, crediting her veteran team captains of showing her the keys to success at the Division I level.

Not a simple task, of course, with long road trips to away meets and never enough time to prepare in between.

"It was lot less sleep than I'm used to," she remarked.

The season closed with the Ivy League Swimming Championship meet, an experience that left an indelible mark.

"It's definitely intimidating, but it's a transformative experience," she said. "It's hard to conceptualize how hard these girls work, and you're no different than any of them. It's so inspiring to watch all these women compete."

Setting aside nerves, Gruvberger and her 400-freestyle relay cohorts clocked the eighth-fastest time in Big Red history at the meet and emerged with a solid foundation of confidence upon which to build.

"I think I was coming to realize that I had more of myself that I waned to explore. I wanted to see my full potential as a swimmer by the time I was done at Cornell," she said.

Gruvberger entered her junior campaign "very focused and very driven" to excel.

"I wanted to prove things to myself. I finally got used to being starstruck by these powerful women around me, and I wanted to be one myself," she said. "I trained with them, and I had a lot of faith in myself after all of my work."

That self-assurance translated into dazzling results.

"I had one of the best seasons that I ever had," Gruvberger said, citing trips to the top of the podium several times, including a expectation-shattering sixth place in the 100-yard butterfly at the Ivy League meet.

The former Red Devil who saw her name go up on Central's record board a dozen times has gone on to rearrange Cornell's, too. Going into her senior year, Gruvberger owned the school's second best time in the 100 butterfly, third fastest time in the 50 butterfly and fifth best in the 200 butterfly.

"It was really rewarding to see that all of the work that I put in this year had accumulated and had all paid off," she said of her junior campaign.

Gruvberger hasn't slowed down for her final tour, again etching her name in the school record books with a second best time ever for the Big Red in the 100 butterfly, 53.97, in November. She'll hit the water in her final Ivy League Championship meet this weekend.

"That's the last meet I'll ever swim, so it's very emotional," she said, adding that she's leaned more into her role as mentor this season. "I've been very focused on being the teammate that I've always wanted to be. I have learned a lot in my four years here, and I hope I've been able to teach them something."

Through the mentoring of others as well as a personal will to perseverance, Gruvberger said she's evolved in multiple ways.

"I grew as an athlete, and that shows through my times," she said. "I think I've learned what it means to be patient and hardworking and resilient, and I've made a lot of friends. I'm proud of myself for sticking with it."

The hotel administration and hospitality major is excited about her next chapter following spring graduation.

"I'm going to have to find new outlets for my energy," she said. "Those are challenges I'm looking forward to."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean