Notre Dame Track and Field student-athlete Brent Swanberg shares his thoughts on life as a college athlete
“Whenever you complete a decathlon is the best moment ever,” said Brent Swanberg. “You cross that line after the 1500, which nobody really wants to run, and you just feel this great sense of accomplishment to just complete a decathlon.”
Swanberg is a senior multi-eventer for the Notre Dame Track and Field team who recently sat down for an interview with the Rover.
Defining his competitive discipline is something he has had to do most of his athletic career: “I do the multi-events,” says Swanberg, “so, heptathlon, indoor, decathlon, outdoor … a lot of people don’t really know what that is. It’s basically two days of events that combine all the different disciplines of track and field over the course of two days. It’s kind of a weird thing to get into.”
Heptathlon, which takes place indoors, has seven events: 60-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60-meter hurdles, pole vault, and 1000-meter run.
For a decathlete, as the name suggests, the list is even longer with 10 competitive outdoor events: 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and 1500-meter run.
Swanberg is from the small town of Manhattan, Illinois. He started track in fifth grade when he was 12 years old. Four years later, he began attending Lincoln-Way Central High School, while continuing his track and field endeavors.
His dad originally sparked his interest in the sport. “My dad competed in the decathlon in his college career,” Swanberg said. “He loves track, and he definitely transferred that love of track and field on to me.”
Brent’s own love for all the disciplines eventually caught up with him, and he soon found himself competing in the decathlon. “I liked the jumping events really,” he said, “and I got to high school, and I realized I was good at jumping, and I was also good at running, and I was also good at hurdling, and I could also pole vault. And I loved doing all these different events. So, that’s when my dad’s said, ‘You should go ahead and try the decathlon.’”
As a result of his success in high school track and field, Notre Dame offered Swanberg a spot on their team. Assistant Coach Jim Garnham played a key role in helping with Brent’s decision to come to Notre Dame.
“My coach, Jim Garnham, he really had an affect on me: his personality, his training style, his sense of humor, everything. I really appreciated who he was as a person, and I mean, it’s come to the point where now I consider him one of my best friends, and so he was another big reason why I came here,” Swanberg added.
Garnham is responsible for much of Swanberg’s growth as an athlete. “We’ve worked together,” said Swanberg. “He’s developed me into a much better athlete than I ever thought I could be.”
Although Swanberg has had a successful few years at Notre Dame, the journey did not start out so easily. “I was reminiscing on my career here earlier this week,” he says. “[A]nd I realized that my freshman year I really wasn’t that great. I was last in the conference at the conference meet, and I’ve come a long way from being last in the conference to this year vying for a conference championship, and getting close to even breaking a school record.”
This type of growth would not be possible without the support of his teammates. “That’s one thing I think is unique about the Notre Dame track and field team,” said Swanberg, “is we’re really team-oriented. We’re helping each other out, we’re rooting each other on in practice, we’re working together to get better. But you really kind of see it come out in those big meets, the conference and national meets, and you’re there. You’re cheering on your teammates, supporting them and helping them achieve more than they thought they could.”
For Swanberg, the team aspect is absolutely necessary in order to win. “When it comes down to the national [or] conference levels,” he continued, “you definitely need a team of people working together in their individual events in order to win.”
Keeping up with a rigorous training and workout schedule while at the same time staying on track in studies is no easy task. “It’s hard, especially being a multi-eventer. I’ll have 4 to 5 hours of practice every day between lifting and workouts and then you know, technical sessions of my events,” Swanberg explained.
Like any student-athlete, Swanberg has had to find ways to meet the high demands of both school and sport. He says he has developed the motto, “Work smarter, not harder.”
This is a basic strategy of daily efficiency, which prioritizes the most important responsibilities, assignments, and commitments. Everything else comes second.
“I definitely have found a way to work more efficiently in what I do,” added Swanberg. “That definitely helped me get back some of that free time, so I didn’t go crazy. It was a steep learning curve my freshman year, but after that, smooth sailing.”
For Swanberg, being a student-athlete at a Catholic university like Notre Dame has presented him with some interesting opportunities, particularly when he first arrived at Notre Dame. “It was kind of a new atmosphere for me,” he said, “and honestly I had never been to a Catholic Mass before, until my freshman year orientation. I went with my roommate and best friend, Brian Florin, and his family. It was a good experience, and being able to be exposed to something like that, a different side, if you will, of Christianity has really helped me and opened my eyes.”
The peaceful presence of faith on campus is something that sets Notre Dame apart for Swanberg. “Notre Dame is special,” he said, “because faith and religion are very present on this campus, but they are not in your face about it. Notre Dame has a great balance of having faith be so present on campus in everything that happens in daily life, but not being over-aggressive and in your face.”
Often, Swanberg finds refuge in Iron Sharpens Iron, which is a student-led, interdenominational Christian fellowship that meets on Thursdays on campus. “I like to go to that a lot,” he said. “I definitely do appreciate it, getting to sing worship songs, and hear other people’s testimonies. It’s really important to learn from other people’s experiences.”
His Christian faith is something that Swanberg believes has helped him both with humility and with his sport. “I definitely came in to Notre Dame being a little prideful. I thought I was the man. I thought I was really great,” he admitted. “Slowly, I realized I was struggling with my sport. I wasn’t doing so well. It’s probably just because my ego got too big, and I thought I was better than I was. So, I definitely had a humbling moment where I had to refocus.”
Like faith, family is very important to Swanberg. He is especially aware of the constant support of his parents, Darrell and Cindy, who come to all of his events. “I’ll be out there and I’ll be super nervous, and you know, I’ll look up in the stands, and I always try to find where my parents are sitting,” he said.
Swanberg also has a brother to connect with through track and field. “My brother runs track and field at Marquette,” he explained. “He’s the Big East champion in the pole vault. It’s really awesome getting to be able to talk track and field with him in the off-season, when I’ll come home for summer, we’ll be together and we’ll be able to train together, run workouts together, lift together, and we really push each other.”
Swanberg believes that Notre Dame challenges students to be their best at all times: “You never in your life, in my opinion, will ever be around a group of people that will push you as hard as people here push you. This is a place that demands excellence from you every day, in everything that you do, and they don’t accept anything less, as a university and as your peers.”
As for excellence, Swanberg has already achieved many of his personal goals, but even as his senior year winds down, he still has set the bar very high for himself. He lists three goals in particular. “I want to break a school record, and hopefully I’ll be able to do it indoors. I want to be a conference champion as well, and then ultimately, I want to be able to qualify for the NCAA meet,” he said.
With the conference championships quickly approaching this week, Swanberg will look to break a school record and gain a conference title.
James Pratt is a junior political science major. He drains mid-range jumpers on the parquet floor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.