German native excels for GVSU swim
Ferrero embraces team aspect of college swimming, improves mentality
On Christmas Day 2012, Andy Boyce, head coach of the Grand Valley State swim and dive team, received a future-altering present, as a 20-year-old native of Idstein, Germany arrived on campus for the first time.
That 20-year-old was now-senior Gianni Ferrero. His arrival on campus set him up for his first solo encounter with the world outside of Europe.
‘First’ is a word Ferrero is extremely familiar with. Last season, he earned six All-American honors for outstanding performance in the pool, and has his name on the GVSU record-board a staggering 16 times among a variety of categories.
And Ferrero is only improving.
"It’s like a senior year mentality. I’m more focused, I’m getting more sleep and I’m eating healthy," Ferrero said. "I’m 99.9 percent sure that it’s all going to pay off.”
While Ferrero's talent is readily apparent, it's not the only quality that has led him to this level of success. As a senior captain for the team, he knows his role to motivate teammates and push for team improvement.
His fellow Lakers recognize it, too.
“(Watching Gianni swim) is extremely motivating. He’ll finish his race, get out of the water, shake everyone’s hands, and come over to one of us who might not be as fast and say ‘hey, you can do this on your race, and I saw your turn wasn’t as good as it can be, so if you fix that you’ll improve in the pool’, it’s great because he’s had great success, but he wants that for us too,” said junior Jenn Priebe.
“He’s a motivator. A coach."
Ferrero knows his role as a quasi-coach, and embraces it. His motivation doesn't come in the form of fiery pump-up speeches, but rather in the form of his lean frame zipping through the water to lead the Lakers in the pool.
“What I can really do well is communicate with the coaches and really address the team," Ferrero said. "I can push people in practice by leading by example. I just (love to) get people going.”
Ferrero's transition from a lifetime German to a now-Laker for a Lifetime didn't come as easily as the breaststroke. From acclimating to the culture of the U.S. to truly learning English (he took nine years of classes back home, but he admits he did not learn much), things were difficult for Ferrero.
However, one of the pleasant adjustments came in transitioning to the Laker swim team from his squad back home.
“Everything (was different). We don’t have college sports (in Germany). If you want to do any kind of sport, you have to do a club. There, it’s more of an individualistic sport. You might cheer your teammates on, but it’s not the team spirit you have here," he said.
"The reason the internationals swim so fast here at the beginning is because they’re not used to having a team cheer you on like this. You might not think it’s that big, but it’s actually huge.”
The teammate support has changed Ferrero's swimming game from the inside out. Back in Germany, tough meets or practices left him mentally weak and crumbling at key moments. Now, as a Laker, mental toughness is a strength. Meet after meet, practice after practice, Ferrero has dozens of teammates screaming for him when he does well, and helping him return to form when he comes up short.
While the swimming stud seems to be eternally focused and down-to-business, he admits to looking silly at time before races. In a sort of pre-meet ritual, Ferrero bounces around near the starting block and smacks himself to get energy and adrenaline pumping.
“It goes so far that I have bruises... It’s just generating energy and adrenaline,” Ferrero said.
Ferrero’s GVSU career is winding to a close, as this will be his final season as a Laker. However, he admits he is beginning to come to terms with it.
“Swimming has been with me my entire life. I couldn’t imagine to just stop swimming completely, but I’m starting to be OK with being done at this competitive level," Ferrero said. "I have NCAA nationals in March, and then Germany nationals back home in May. After that, that’s my final point for my active swimming career.”
Though Ferrero may not have a competitive swimming career after college does not mean he’ll no longer be a swimmer. He looks forward to opportunities to hit the water recreationally.
Heed this warning: If Gianni Ferrero ever turns up at a pool party in the future, do not challenge him to a race.
Odds are he'll shake, smack and speed his way to yet another easy victory.