How Kevin Gillooly used adversity to become one of NJAC’s best

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You know Kevin Gillooly as a sophomore on the men’s swimming and diving team.

A 2017-2018 New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) All-Conference first team member; last year’s Rookie of the Meet at the Metropolitan Championships; last year’s NJAC’s Rookie of the Year.

As great as these sound, they certainly weren’t honors that were easy to capture.

Although he is now the athlete that head coach Brad Bower wants his team to work themselves to be similar to, Gillooly used to just be a kid caught in the shadows of his older brother and teammates.

Swimming wasn’t even on the top of his priority list.

“For most of my life up until probably high school it was really a struggle for me,” Gillooly said. “I wasn’t the guy on the “A” relays. I wasn’t the guy making headlines or anything as a young kid and swimming wasn’t a priority of mine.”

In his home town of Cherry Hill, swimming comes as a big deal in the community. So it’s to no surprise that Gillooly was put on a team at just four years old, just like his siblings had been.

Years later, Gillooly was a five-sport athlete coming into high school and it was time for him to fully commit to one.

That’s when “the best decision ever made” was, well, made.

After swimming for six to eight weeks every summer, Gillooly put in extra effort and committed to swimming full-time going into his freshman year of high school.

Even after falling in love with the sport, the adversity that came along with it didn’t go away.

“My freshman year in high school, a lot of the guys in the group on my club team that I was swimming with would always be picking on me because I was older than them and they were beating me,” Gillooly said. “And then my freshman and sophomore years, that kind of ignited a fire under me that made me want to work hard and be better than everyone.”

Besides the club members picking on Gillooly, there was also a classic sibling rivalry heating up in the household.

Although he’s only a year older than Kevin, his brother Patrick has been a role model and someone Kevin always looked up to. In fact, seeing Patrick’s swimming success is what sparked Kevin’s interest in the sport in the first place. However, Patrick was the one making headlines and seemed to be the premier athlete in the family.

But the tides seemed to turn when Kevin was able to break his brother’s record his senior year.

“Whenever I see him at meets or look up in the stands and see him, it motivates me to go fast,” Kevin said.

Hurdles have been a reoccurring theme for Gillooly and he has leaped them in stride each time.

Even as recently as this year he was faced with changing his mechanics after over a decade in the water. Bowser says he either had to change his stroke or risk further injury to his shoulders. Gillooly always knew his kick was off but it wasn’t until his coaches at Rowan helped him fix his “short stoke” style of swimming that his kick finally came together. He says these adjustments are really helping him with his 50 and 100 freestyle.

Bowser isn’t surprised that Gillooly has adjusted so well.

“He’s a student,” Bowser said. “He pays attention to what he can do to be better. [He’s] growing up. [He’s] maturing and seeing the fact that if he continued to go the way he was going to go, his shoulders were going to give out. So he put a lot of time and effort into changing it and it’s definitely helped his season so far.”

Another factor that keeps Gillooly going in the face of adversity is the bond he has with the teammates. Living on campus with fellow swimmers Aaron Schiff and Dylan Regan, Gillooly credits them and his friendships with his other teammates for getting him through tough practices.

They’ll also always be there to fill his desire to chase others to get better.

“The way the sport it is, it doesn’t just put you against the opposing teams,” Gillooly said. “It puts you against your teammates too, so practicing with a fast group of guys every single day who are putting in the work in the pool makes it a really good opportunity to push myself because we have some guys who are always putting down some good times in practices.”

Gillooly has always thrived as an underdog, and when asked what will happen as he gets better and better with no one left to chase, he said he’s not worried as long as he can chase his teammates and even has his eyes set on professionals.

“When you look at some of the fastest guys in the world, there’ll always be faster guys to chase,” Gillooly said.

Gillooly’s impact is one that has been felt throughout the program, and as the season progresses and the years go on, it seems as if that impact will be there forever.

“He’s always motivating himself,” Bowser said. “He’s a self-motivator.”

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