Athlete of the week: Courtney Grunewald, Elk River, swimming: In her element

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Courtney Grunewald was just 6 the first time she had a swimming race.

“I was a water baby,” she laughs. “My grandparents got me involved, and I’ve been a swimmer ever since.”

A career that started at Minneapolis Golf Club, where her grandparents were members, has blossomed nicely with the Elks. Grunewald, starting her senior year this week, has emerged as one of the top swimmers ever in a perennially successful program.

She has scored points at state 12 times the last four years, most notably her sixth-place in backstroke as a sophomore and fifth in butterfly as a junior that got her on the medal stand.

Courtney Grunewald has scored points at state meets 12 times the last four years including medals for fifth- and sixth-place finishes. She owns three school records. (Photo by Rick Orndorf)

“She has excelled all the way through in our program,” said coach Colleen Killpatrick. “Some girls peak at 12 or 14 and never get better. That’s certainly not the case with her.”

One of the physically strongest swimmers the Elks have had, at 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, she is the only girl on the record board in three separate events: 57.89 in backstroke (sectionals 10th grade), 57.19 in the butterfly (state last year), and a leg on the 1:50.59 medley relay (state in eighth grade).

“It’s my last hurrah, so I want to get one more record, the 200 individual medley,” she said. “I’m about one second away. And place higher on the podium, like third or fourth, at state.”

Her state meet points include fifth and 13th in butterfly; sixth in backstroke; ninth, 10th and 11th in the IM;  and six times in relays, 10th to 16th.

At sectionals, Grunewald has five individual golds (three in butterfly, one each in backstroke and IM) plus two in the medley relay. She was Section 8AA swimmer of the year as a sophomore.

A swim-only athlete through school, she once  tried soccer and liked it, but that’s in the fall, too.

Swimming all year, but for a two-week break after state, is fine with Grunewald. The demands that swimming puts on those who want to excel is what appeals to her most.

“You swim the whole race all-out, every single race. When you work all season, up to your big meet, and taper, and drop your times when you need to, that is always so rewarding.”

One perk is that you get to eat like a pig.  “We burn more calories than a runner or anyone else, because you move every single part of your body,” said Grunewald, who has breakfast before and after practice (bagel with peanut butter, then pancakes or eggs), plus good-sized noon and evening meals and a protein bar at bedtime. She loads up on pasta, cantaloupe and bananas.

She was with Edina Swim Club for several years and now St. Michael Sea Devils because it’s closer. Her club highlights  include winning the 200 IM at a state meet when she was 13, and several trips to national meets where you share the pools with scads of Olympians.

“I was three feet from Michael Phelps once, and had my picture taken with Ryan Lochte,” said Grunewald.

She’s been almost inseparable with Allison and Aaron Schwab since early grade school, the senior twins being fellow aqua standouts. “We’re more like family than friends,” she said.

s for her own family, she has just one sibling, ninth-grader Alyse, a totally different athlete, tall and slim, who plays soccer goalie and basketball. Elk swim coaches playfully recruit the kid every year, to no avail. “I tell her, you don’t have to swim. I’m the swimmer,” said Courtney. “I love to watch her play.”

Grunewald is also, of course, a captain, along with Ali and Kayla Kranitz.

“She is a very good captain,” said Killpatrick. “At the pool, she is very outgoing, while at school, she is really kind of shy. I guess she is more in her element here.”

Grunewald makes a point of being accessible and helpful to the large  swim squad of 70 kids in grades seven–12, including about 30 new to the sport.

“I try my best to get them to understand the importance of starting right now if they want success. I want them to experience what I have experienced, because I’ve had the time of my life.”


Courtney Grunewald

Personal file — Age: 17 … Family: parents, Jon and Cathy; sister, Alyse, 14 … Other activities: Link Crew, Spanish Club …. Academics: 3.85 GPA … College plans: undecided where; swimming, major in journalism and communications

Favorite stuff — Class: English (writing), science, chemistry … TV shows: “Pretty Little Liars,” “Married to Jonas” … Movie: “The Hunger Games” … Music: country, especially Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith … Food: chicken Alfredo … Drink: Gatorade dark blue … Kickback: wake boarding, tubing, snowmobiling … Would like to visit: Greece, and anyplace tropical