Let’s be clear about one thing first: It ain’t you, Clemson.
It’s him. Always was. Heart of hearts, Connor Griffin was geared up to be a Tiger. Cut him, he’d bleed orange all over the rug. Heck, he’d even put down a deposit. Goodbye swimming. Hello, Death Valley.
“I kind of wrapped my head around being done,” Griffin recalled. “And then March came around.
“I work better on a schedule. I like the routine. Even though it can get old and tiring, I just know I work better on a routine. That was the thing I missed. I felt kind of lost.
“I realized during the month of March, when I was like, ‘Am I missing something?’ My schedule was off. I just wasn’t complete. What was I doing? I just realized … I need the sport. I need that competitive outlet. I was like, ‘I really need to continue to do this to do well in other aspects of my life and school.’ I was just happier swimming, I guess.”
Trust your gut, even when it’s doing cartwheels. The beautiful thing about self-discovery is that it’s not always a linear path. On a good day, it wobbles. Sometimes, it bobs and weaves on butterfly’s wings, drawing imaginary pretzels in the air.
Last March, Connor Griffin had come out of the closet, figuring such a revelation would make him a spectacle and a target, torpedoing any chance of being accepted in a team sport ever again. This March, he’s a freshman swimmer at Fordham, a teammate and a brother, another link in the Rams’ chain. Just one of the dudes.
“We swim at 6 in the morning and again at 3 in the afternoon,” said Griffin, a three-time all-conference selection at Charlotte (N.C.) Catholic High School. “We’re always together. We’re just too close to even care.
“I think what it is, honestly — even if someone’s on your team, you still love them because you’re with them all the time. And you have their backs.”
Trust your gut, even when it aches like sin. The wishy-washy feelings about the water stemmed from an incident during his junior year at Charlotte Catholic. The punch was thrown by a school assembly — the subject: “Family Roles In The Catholic Church” — during which the nun at the microphone decreed that being gay was a choice, that it was a conscious decision of someone with parental abandonment issues. All of which basically dropped a 2-ton weight on Griffin, a soul kicked straight in the teeth.
“I wasn’t having fun with the sport, really,” the Rams’ freshman recalled. “I was with the same (club) team from when I was like 11 to 18. And by the time you’re a senior in high school, you’re kind of ready to move on with everything. You’re ready to start college, and all that change is happening … (I’d) pretty much stopped swimming by March my senior year.”
A point of pride became a bundle of doubt. The nun’s words shook Griffin to the degree that he felt compelled to detail the whole shebang in a January essay for Outsports.com.
“I put my e-mail address in the article so people could reach out if they wanted to,” Griffin said. “I actually got a lot more responses than I thought I was going to get.”
A text message arrived that read: I love you, but you should already know that it doesn’t change a thing. It’s not that big of a deal. Griffin guessed that his piece might garner a handful of e-mails. He got more than 300.
“There’s no way I could respond to all of them, but I read all of them,” Griffin said. “I would say 97% of it was positive, people telling me they have the same struggle. College athletes, older people, even high-schoolers. Not (just) athletes.
“They were like, ‘I know exactly how you feel and I’m feeling the same way. Reading your story makes me feel a lot better. I know I can get through it, there is a bright side at the end of the (tunnel).’ When I read that, it makes me feel good that I can help someone realize that it does get better. And there is a positive side to this.”
Trust your gut, even if it feels like you’re the only one out on that limb. Given enough light, enough rope, the right company will find its way to the tree.
“I pretty much just stopped lying,” Griffin explained. “If someone wanted to know and ask me, come out and ask me — I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t running (around) telling people like, ‘Oh, look at me, I’m gay.’ I was just kind of like, ‘If you want to know, ask me and I’m not going to hide it anymore. I’m not going to lie to you.’ I was living the same way I always did. Just in a more authentic way, I guess.”
Trust your gut, even when you think your mind is made up. Initially, Griffin had applied to Fordham as a bit of a lark. When he realized he wanted back in the pool, it became something of a lifeline.
“When I’d gotten in — maybe February, I would say — I said, ‘Well, I might as well contact the coach,’” Griffin recalled. “I looked at their roster and I looked at their times and said, ‘Oh, I could swim there.’”
At the Atlantic 10 championships, Griffin shaved roughly eight seconds off his previous month’s times in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:19.25 on Jan. 30; 2:11.58 on Feb. 20) and was nearly 10 seconds faster in the 200-yard individual medley (2:04.85 on Jan. 30; 1:54.65 on Feb. 18). Griffin’s 400-yard individual medley number (4:10.62) was among the lowest of his freshman campaign.
“I think moving from North Carolina to New York was a pretty big adjustment in itself,” Griffin said. “And then the swimming also was a very big change. Freshman year is always a big change, for everyone. I think I handled it pretty well. I didn’t swim as fast as I wanted to, but I had fun this season. That’s all I could really ask for.”