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Sophomore's work ethic derives from religious convictions
Central's Gramling will compete in the 200 and 500 freestyle at state this weekend.
When Central sophomore Sam Gramling describes how much time he spends practicing each week, he smiles and says that he's "hardly out of the water."
"Swimming is a sport in which you have to be in the water constantly," he said. "If you're not in the water, then you're not going to do very [well]."
Much of Gramling's week revolves around his training. It includes waking up at 5 a.m. some days to work on his strokes and technique. He often practices twice each day, adjusts his diet before meets, trains with the Tigers and his club team, the SEALs, and lifts weights.
Sam, a non-denominational Christian and a member of Cape Bible Chapel in Cape Girardeau, credits God for his discipline and drive to work his hardest.
"The dedication comes from my religious background," he said. "I want to swim because it is my gift from God and I want to focus on it because I know he has a plan for me. I know God equips us with gifts. I know I'm an above average swimmer."
And the countless hours in the pool are paying off.
Gramling is one of three Central swimmers who will compete individually at the state tournament, which takes place Friday and Saturday at the Rec-Plex in St. Peters, Mo. He'll swim the 500-yard freestyle (4 minutes, 59.55 seconds qualifying time) and the 200 freestyle (1:52.32).
He'll be looking to improve on his performances from last year when he finished 11th in the 500 freestyle and 15th in the 200 freestyle.
"He [Gramling] is an exceptional swimmer around here," Notre Dame coach Lenny Kuper said, adding that Gramling has great stamina for the long-distance races. "When he's in the 500, the best we can hope for is a second."
Central coach Dayna Powell added about Gramling: "His body composition and his mental toughness put together makes him a really good distance swimmer."
Religion in swimming
Gramling said one of the reasons he swims is because he can share what he learns from reading the Bible with other swimmers and tell them how much God has changed his life. Gramling is currently reading and studying Proverbs with his chapel's youth group.
"He loves swimming and he feels like that's an opportunity for him to be around other people to share the Gospel, and he has done that several times," his mother, Ladon Gramling, said. "When waiting in between events and even sometimes at practice, he's gotten into discussions and Sam will come home and say, 'I had a good practice and I had a good practice because I was able to share my faith because of something that happened.'"
Ladon and her husband, Tim Gramling, said their family is religious and they always took Sam to church while he was growing up. But they let him decide for himself what kind of commitment he was going to make to religion, and from there, he made the choice on his own.
Ladon added that her son was named after the prophet Samuel from the Bible, whose mother Hannah had trouble becoming pregnant and prayed for a child. Ladon said she had a stillbirth and had trouble for a long time becoming pregnant after that. She prayed and eventually conceived Sam, whose name, she said, means act of God.
Sam said he has experienced spiritual revelations while swimming.
"I found one in swimming two years ago," he said. "I had to do eight miles swimming and I became so physically tired that I realized God was saying, 'This is you if I'm not in your life.' And it showed me how great God is that he is the one who allows me to do everything. And there is a type of surrenderance to him. That way he controls your life."
Tim said much of his son's training discipline fits well with his dedication to his faith.
"You have to be very disciplined to be a swimmer because you know you don't have a lot of extra time for a lot of extra things," Tim said. "I think out of that stems a very disciplined lifestyle and way of thinking and I just think it fits in with his Christianity."
Tim said Sam sacrifices much of his social time to concentrate on the sport. Sam swims approximately eight to 10 times per week, covering 18 or more total hours.
Sam swims about three times a week with the SEALs and three times per week on his own at Fitness Plus, in addition to working with the Central team.
His multiple-day workouts consist of him practicing before school at about 5 a.m. and then returning to the pool later in the evening.
"He's always in the pool -- usually twice a day and that's more than me or most guys," Central captain Peyton Waggener said. "He's really, really dedicated. He's fast, and he's a nice guy."
Sam also adheres to a rigid diet during the days leading up to a meet, which his family calls "competition week."
"I don't feed him beef three to four days before a meet," Ladon said. "It takes a long time to digest beef. It's hard to break down so he doesn't need any extra weight or something holding him back. We just eat a lot more lean meat, a lot of fish and chicken, and lots of pasta.
"He has been such an inspiration to me because of his discipline. When I tell him he needs to eat this or do this he never argues."
Sam said swimming isn't the only area where he believes God wants him to work hard. He's also committed to playing the viola and succeeding in the classroom, so he puts emphasis on those two things as well.
He said he isn't sure about swimming after high school, and expects to get a better idea down the road. But he added that swimming will always be an essential part of him.
"I would never give swimming up completely," he said. "It's just a part of my life now."