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Just keep swimming

March 26, 2018
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Freshman at University of Michigan Luiz Gustavo. Photo credit: Fernanda Pires

ANN ARBOR—Each early morning, when swimmer Luiz Gustavo Borges arrives at Canham Natatorium for practice, he crosses Club Wolverine’s entrance hallway. At that point, any weariness still clinging to the freshman student-athlete evaporates. In its place: energy, gratitude and motivation.

After all, he is passing by dozens of Olympic swim caps worn by Michael Phelps, Connor Jaeger and Tyler Clary. None can compare, however, to the cap that once belonged to his father, Brazilian Olympic medalist Gustavo Borges, one of the greatest swimmers in the history of the University of Michigan.

Words painted on the wall read: “It’s not every four years, it is every day.”

Pure inspiration, Borges says.

Diving in

Luiz Gustavo points to the name of his father – Brazilian swimmer Gustavo Borges. Photo courtesy: Fernanda Pires

Since he was a little boy, Borges has heard stories about his father’s passion for Michigan: the football Saturdays, the Big Ten competitions and his unforgettable experiences swimming for the Wolverines.

“I grew up loving Michigan, too, but always wanted to pick the best college for me, a place to have the opportunity to thrive myself,” Borges says. “So I kept my options open.”

When it came time to visit colleges, he analyzed his possibilities and dealt with some “good family pressure.” The decision to swim for Michigan came easily though, in October 2016, after Borges met Head Coach Mike Bottom.

The five-time Big Ten Coach of the Year demonstrated interest in Borges from their first conversation, and after a couple of days in Ann Arbor, the future Wolverine left as a U-M commit, proudly wearing a maize-and-blue jersey.

“The swimming at Michigan is spectacular; the education is one of the best in the world,” Borges says. “And to top all of that? The people are amazing and want you to succeed not just academically or in the sports, but also out of the pool, as human beings.”

Borges, who is also the son of Spanish Olympic swimmer Bárbara Franco, was born in Florida and raised in São Paulo. Since the age of 10, he competed for Esporte Clube Pinheiros, one of Brazil’s top clubs, swimming primarily as a sprint freestyler. Among his best results in Brazil: 50-meter freestyle champion in the 2016 summer junior championships, 11th place in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2017 National Championships, and Fina World Junior finalist in 4X100m freestyle relay in 2017.

Life as a Michigan freshman

Like most students-athletes, Borges lives in a dorm and shares a room with a teammate. His hectic freshman routine sees him practicing six times per week, twice a day. When he’s not swimming, Borges is working on bodybuilding, strengthening and technical strategies. And when he’s not training, he is working through 15 credits at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. He plans to apply to the Ross School of Business next year.

Saturdays are (usually) free days, when the athlete finally rests, spends time with friends and watches other sports. Like his father used to do, Borges attended most of the football games at the Big House last fall and he’s frequently in the stands for Michigan basketball, hockey and volleyball games.

“I spend a lot of my free time with other athletes,” Borges says. “It feels pretty amazing to be part of the Wolverine team.”

Actually, being part of a team changed Borges’ swimming goals. Since his father swam in four Olympics, winning a pair of both silver and bronze medals as a freestyle sprinter, Borges always aimed to conquer at least four medals himself. At Michigan, though, he began to value group competitions much more than individual races.

“Now, my biggest dream is to win a 4X100m freestyle relay medal in 2020,” he says.

But before the Tokyo summer games, Borges says he has a lot of work to do. He is determined to be the best swimmer possible, in order to help take Michigan to future Big Ten and NCAA championships.

So far, some of Borges’ best results include the 2018 Big Ten championship in the 200-yard freestyle relay and fourth place in the 50-yard freestyle (19.28).

“We are very happy to have Borges on our team,” Bottom says. “We are working very hard together.”

About to finish his first year away from home, Borges finds Ann Arbor and its vibrant cultural life a perfect panacea for any residual homesickness. Not even the grim, gray winter days can bring him down.

“We say it is always 80 and sunny in the Canham Natatorium,” he says.

There is only one wish that could make his college experience even better, Borges says. His 16-year-old sister, Gabriela, also is a swimmer, and he hopes she will follow the family legacy and join Team Wolverine one day, just like him and their father.

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