Chris O’Brien’s Race to the Lead

Chris O'Brien's motto in life is "StaySteadyStuntin" which means to stay awesome.

Chris O’Brien’s motto in life is “StaySteadyStuntin” which means to stay awesome.

Editor’s Note: In high school, Chris O’Brien of Trumbull, Connecticut, was one of the best swimmers in the county. After graduation, he joined the swim team at College of Charleston in South Carolina and quickly climbed the ranks his freshman year. When he wasn’t studying, he was in the pool training. He never would have believed that his love for swimming would almost cost him his life. Part 1 of a 5 part series.

When Chris O’Brien was in high school, he researched all the colleges with swim teams, in hopes of getting a scholarship. “I called the swimming coach at the College of Charleston and sent him my swimming times,” O’Brien recalls. “He said if I walked on, I could be on the team. There were two reasons I chose the College of Charleston: I could compete in swimming, and I wouldn’t face nearly as much snow as we had in Connecticut.”

Chris’s event was freestyle swimming, and his best races were the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle. He couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t swimming and competing in swim meets. He was even the captain of his high school swim team both his junior and senior years.  Although he was excited about going to college, he admits the first few weeks away from home were rough. “I wasn’t too sure what I’d gotten myself into, but one of the advantages of being a freshman and being part of a team was that I instantly had friends. A swim team is like a brotherhood, and swimmers hang together. School got to be a lot of fun when I had teammates to hang-out with every day. My freshman year went by fast with classes, swim practice and trying to work in a little fun time. When I look at my grades now, I know I could’ve spent more time and tried harder on my academics. Although I had better than a C average for that year, I realized it could’ve been better.

Chris O'Brien had an amazing first year in college.

Chris O’Brien had an amazing first year in college.

“When I started on the swim team, I was in the back of the pack, and I realized right away that I wasn’t in the kind of shape I needed to be for college swimming. But, by the middle of the season, I’d gotten much stronger. By the last conference meet, I was swimming the best times I ever had. I had moved from the back of the team up into the middle by the end of my freshman year.” O’Brien was living the life that every high school athlete dreams about his first year at the College of Charleston, and he was looking forward to his sophomore year. He’d improved so much in competitive swimming and knew he could do better academically. He was over the culture shock of moving away from his home and family, and he’d created a good base of peer support with his teammates. His world was about as good as it could be.

To learn more about Chris O’Brien, visit his Facebook page at

Next: Chris O’Brien’s Shallow Water Dive That Almost Cost Him his Life

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at

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