Grewe Reflects on Paralympic Journey
by Guy Thompson
Life is just starting to go back to normal for Northridge senior Sam Grewe, who has had a whirlwind fall.
On September 9, Grewe competed in his first Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, clearing a personal best 1.86 meters (6 ft. 1 inch) to take a silver medal.
But the journey to Rio began a couple of weeks earlier, when Grewe joined the U.S. Paralympic Team in Houston, Texas. “The whole team met up there to train and for team processing,” Grewe said. This included visiting the sponsors’ stations, where they received the team uniform for the opening and closing ceremony, a team watch, and more.
Along with the training and sponsors, team members were also prepped on media protocol and flag etiquette. They also learned more on how their event would be staged once in Rio, allowing competitors to focus on their efforts in the event.
Grewe noted that he knew most of the track and field team members, having competed with many of them at the world championships in Qatar and again at the U.S. Paralympic Trials last summer. There are only a few that “come out of nowhere,” much like what Grewe did last year when he won the high jump at the world championships.
The U.S. team then flew down to Rio and got settled in at the athletes’ village. “There was a lot of media hype on Rio,” Grewe recalled. Most of that hype was negative, but Grewe said he never had a problem and found Rio to be beautiful and “the people were really nice.”
The athletes’ village was “a little rough,” Grewe admitted, but added “It was a vacation. We were there to work and compete.” That included training on the practice track prior to the start of the games and then the actual evening on the contest itself.
Even his participation in the opening ceremony was curtailed due to the upcoming competition. “The ceremony was only two days before I jumped, so I walked in with the team, did one lap, and then back to the village to rest,” Grewe said. “Everyone at the opening ceremony was super-excited. It was so loud and they were there to support the games. When we walked in, the whole stadium chanted ‘USA.’”
Once at the track and field stadium to compete, Grewe was amazed with the stadium itself. “It was a huge, huge stadium,” he noted. “It was a real memorable experience, walking into the stadium.” He jumped later in the evening, under the stadium lights, with around 30,000 spectators.
Going into the competition, Grewe and his coach knew he was one of the medal contenders as he was tied for fifth in the pre-games rankings. “But I knew from practices that my heights were competitive,” he said. Anyone in the top eight could bring back a medal, and it would come down to who had a good day and who had a bad one.
“My goal was 1.85 to 1.9 meters,” Grewe said. The competition was tough and Grewe admitted he never felt good about his approach to the jump. He had been battling injuries since the spring, and still had pain during the games. “The last four or five jumps, I could tell that was wasn’t getting the pop in the jump,” Grewe said.
But he still reached his goal, jumped a personal best, and found himself on the podium receiving the silver medal.
After the high jump and medal ceremony, Grewe had the weekend and a day to see Rio and the games. “I was tired, though. I didn’t want to walk around. I wanted to chill. I hadn’t done that in months,” he said. But he joined his parents, Randy and Michelle, to explore Rio before they all headed back to the U.S.
Back in Middlebury, Grewe has been catching up on schoolwork and was one of the torchbearers through Middlebury in early October for the Bicentennial Torch Relay. He’s also looking to catch up on researching colleges. “I’ve pushed that off for so long,” he said. While he doesn’t have one picked out, he’s looking to go into biomedical engineering or a similar field.
He can also “eat whatever I want,” now that he’s off the training diet. But habits, even good ones, die hard. “I have to force myself to rest,” he admitted. He’ll ease back into training by the end of the year and will compete in the spring. He hopes the extended time off will help his injuries heal.
“I have a lot of room for improvement,” Grewe said. He’s looking to try to compete at the collegiate level, but wants to be at a school where he can still train for the next Paralympic games, which will be in Tokyo in 2020. And while Rio may not have been on his mind four years ago, Tokyo is firmly fixed on his radar.
In fact, “I have several more games ahead of me,” Grewe said.