Grit, determination pull swimmer through tough times

David La

The Gophers men’s swimming and diving team will compete this weekend in the Dallas Morning News Invitational, a meet where participating teams are only allowed a squad of eight swimmers and one diver, so it is imperative to bring swimmers who can compete at a high level in multiple events.
Swimmers like senior Jono McLeod.
McLeod is the consummate team swimmer, using his abilities to compete in several events as needed. He is proficient in the butterfly, breaststroke, freestyle and backstroke. He is also familiar with pressure and disappointment but relies on grit and determination to get him through.
McLeod, whose given name is Jonathan, came to Minnesota from Regina, Saskatchewan. He was the 1994 Canadian National Champion in the 200-yard individual medley but wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. He took matters into his own hands and wrote to more than 20 schools, informing them of who he was and what he could bring to a swimming program.
McLeod arrived at Minnesota as a freshman in 1994 and immediately paid dividends. He was a finalist in three Big Ten events and earned All-American and Academic All-American honors. It was a first season that showed a lot of promise, but expectations for his sophomore year would have to be postponed until after McLeod’s next venture — for better and for worse.
McLeod went to Boston to train for the Canadian Olympic Team, thereby forfeiting his eligibility as a college swimmer for 1995-1996.
But training suddenly became more of a full-time job for McLeod, as his average hours spent training jumped from about 25 hours a week while in college to around 40. The extra physical activity, coupled with the added mental strain had McLeod burnt out by the time of the qualifying meet. He swam well — finishing third and forth — but only the top two finishers made the cut, leaving him on the outside looking in.
The year in training for what now seemed like nothing hurt McLeod’s confidence and his motivation to return to competitive swimming wavered.
“It was a big disappointment,” McLeod said, “because I put a whole year of my life … into it. It was tough.”
McLeod took a three-month sabbatical and limited his time in the pool. He remained in shape physically and prepared himself mentally for his second year at Minnesota in 1996-1997 — a chance at starting fresh.
It was a convincing comeback, but not a complete one. McLeod had a strong season, including an All-Big Ten selection and another Academic All-American nod. His showing at the NCAAs was not a good one, however; his self-pressuring ways again got the better of him.
“(I was) still training hard,” Mc Leod said, “but not pretending like (practice) was the big race every single time … it just drained me too much.”
Now in his final year, McLeod finds himself more at peace, all the while swimming with a senior’s urgency and intensity.
“I think the main thing I’ve been doing this year is enjoying it,” McLeod said. “But being a senior, you realize that this is it, you have to go for it now.”
Coach Dennis Dale sees McLeod as a leader whose experiences dealing with and overcoming setbacks is an asset in consoling teammates who falter. Dale added that McLeod has been performing big in big meets.
“In our most intense meets so far this season,” said Dale, “(McLeod) has been at his best.”
The Dallas Morning News Invite will give the Gophers — a few of them, anyway — an invaluable opportunity to swim against five elite teams that finished no lower than No. 14 in the NCAA rankings last season. The event could provide a glimpse of what’s to come at the Big Tens and NCAAs for both Minnesota and Jono McLeod, though assistant coach Kelly Kremer already knows what to expect.
“I see (McLeod) swimming with a mind set,” Kremer said, “to finish up with the very best season possible. This team is focused on getting back into the top 10 at NCAAs and I see Jono as one of the key figures that are going to help us get there.”