While most Tucker-area teens were getting ready and starting school, Gunnar Bentz spent the first two weeks of August swimming in Nationals and Junior Nationals in Palo Alto, California, where he made quite a splash. The 15-year-old, who swims summers for Nottaway Swim Club and trains and competes year-round for Dynamo, competed in both the Senior- and Junior-level events, which together made for 11 consecutive days of racing.
The first week (August 2-6) was Senior Nationals, which is for Olympians and below. Nine Olympians competed, including Jason Lezak, Katie Hoff, and Garrett Weber-Gale. This meet was mostly comprised of college swimmers, and in the words of his parents, Steve and Missy Bentz, “Gunnar's main goals at this meet were to make finals and to qualify for the Junior National Youth Team.” To do so a swimmer has to be one of the top six 18 and under swimmers in any event.
Making the Junior National Youth Team would mean swimming for the USA team in Lima, Peru, and Germany at the Junior World Championship. “Gunnar was in the top two in one event and top six in some others, but found out he is actually three days TOO YOUNG to be eligible for the team! Hopefully he will get to do this next year,” Missy said.
The following week, August 8-12, Gunnar competed in the Junior Nationals meet, which is for swimmers 18 and under. Here are the highlights of what Gunnar accomplished at this meet:
200 Breast - 2nd place, Olympic Trial Cut, Broke the Georgia State Record for 15-16 boys
400 IM - 3rd place, Olympic Trial Cut, Broke the Georgia State Record
200 Free - 11th place (but actually swam the 3rd fastest time; B heat is locked into the 11th-20th places), Olympic Trial Cut, Georgia State Record
100 Breast - 7th place, Olympic Trial Cut
200IM - FIRST place, Olympic Trial Cut, Georgia State Record
To top it all off, Gunnar won the Male High Point Award for the Junior Nationals meet. This score is determined by adding up every individual swimmer’s points for each event, and of those, Gunnar scored highest, making him the Most Valuable Male Swimmer for the meet.
In addition to Gunnar’s individual accomplishments, his team, the Dynamo Swim Club, won the Junior National Meet.
When asked about Gunnar’s performance at Junior Nationals, Jason Turcotte, Head Coach and CEO of Dynamo, said “We knew that Gunnar was going to have some really good swims at Nationals, and our main focus was to put him on the National Junior Team with his swims at Nationals that first week in Palo Alto. What separated Gunnar was his ability to get faster at the second meet (Junior Nationals) and be even better. He was fast every day for 11 days, and that is not easy to accomplish with a challenging event list like Gunnar's. His maturity at 15 and ability to manage himself for that long was the real story of the meet.”
Missy also spoke of Gunnar’s dedication. “As a mom, I see Gunnar working so hard and putting so much stress on himself to reach these goals. I have often wondered is he working too hard, missing out on his childhood?” she said. “But when we saw him at that meet, so happy to have won that High Point Award, I thought, ‘it’s worth it. I’m not going to worry about it anymore. He’s doing this for him. All the stress and hard work is what he wants.’”
When asked about how parents handle raising an athletic child, especially one as driven, dedicated (and successful) as Gunnar is, Missy replied, “With Gunnar, we don’t push at all. He’s completely self-motivated. We’ve always said that if he never wants to swim again, it’s okay. So, he’s not doing this for us. It’s what he wants. We just help make it happen.” Helping to make it happen means his mom drives him to practice nine times a week, his sister and Nottaway swim coach Kensi Bentz says. In a conversation earlier this summer she joked that “my parents will probably be pretty happy next year when he can drive himself.”
In talking about the future, the plan has never been for him to rely on his swimming as a career, his parents say. Gunnar wants to study to be an engineer, and he knows that doing that will require good grades as well as athletics, so he’s very invested in his schoolwork and grades. “He gets it all done,” his mom said.
As Gunnar’s talent and abilities have become more and more obvious, his parents say they “never wanted to make him feel like the Olympics should be his ultimate goal. So few people manage that, and you can’t control who the competition for those spots will be. But, now people are talking about it more and more. We’ll see. All we’ve ever asked is that he try and get a scholarship for college (we’ve invested a lot in swimming) and have a career.” With the dedication, talent, and drive that Gunnar has shown thus far, only time will tell how far he'll go. Stay tuned.