Alex Gray aims for ultimate stage

Alex Gray aims for ultimate stage

Alex Gray ranks fifth all-time at Alabama in 50-meter freestyle. CW | Amellia Armstrong

Alex Gray is a towering figure. I found the back of my head touching my spine when making eye contact with the 6-foot-5-inch junior swimmer from Birmingham, Alabama. Size can be intimidating, especially with an athlete, but when you begin to converse with Gray, the intimidation goes away.

As we sat in the C.M. Newton Room in Coleman Coliseum, Gray answered questions with a soft smile on his face. His coaches and teammates all say that is a standout characteristic of his disposition. He is always introverted, yet ready to compete, laughing and smiling the majority of the time.

“My primary goal is the Olympics,” Gray said. “I want to get to the Olympics.”

What makes Alex different is, even though he possesses a soft smile and a quiet attitude, his goals are the opposite. This summer, he was able to swim at nationals for the first time with some of the nation’s best.

“He’s generally just a really happy guy,” said B.J. Hornikel, a former teammate and one of Gray’s closest friends. “He brings that to practice, and that makes everybody’s attitude better 
about practice.”

Gray’s relationship with Hornikel is one that has been instrumental in his growth as a swimmer for Alabama. They first met in the summer before Gray’s freshman year. They would practice together, competing and racing, while still trying to make the other one 
better overall.

“We started training, and right away he became a really good training partner,” Hornikel said. “And now through these years he keeps getting better and better. We have really good sets together, and we always rely on each other
 in practice.”

Alex came to Alabama possessing the raw athletic ability needed to succeed, but what everyone harps on now is his development. His physicality is considered ideal for a swimmer, being tall with a big upper body, but he did not have a lot of proper technique under his belt. Technique is something he has stressed when asked about his swimming ability.

From the moment Gray stepped on campus, he began to race Hornikel under the supervision of associate head coach Jonty Skinner. Rarely would Gray ever win these training races against Hornikel. As Gray has improved, he has been able to defeat Hornikel almost every time they race.

“Step one his freshman year was just to teach him how to swim,” Skinner said. “Give him a foundation that he could take and go forward.”

Even with little experience swimming, Gray got off to a good start early in his career at the University. During his freshman year, he swam a 20.16 in the 50-meter freestyle at SEC championships. Gray’s success carried over into his sophomore year, where he played a strong role in many of the team’s relay efforts. He was a part of the 200-meter relay team that placed fourth at NCAA. He also swam with the 200-meter relay team that captured an SEC title for the Crimson Tide. Gray’s success in his first two years at Alabama has his coaches believing he can achieve higher goals.

“It’s an elite club making the Olympic team, and it’s a semi-elite club to make the national team,” Skinner said. “I really don’t think that is beyond him.”

Gray leads by example. When I first spoke to him, I could tell he was not the vocal type that is going to rally the troops with a passionate speech or a physical incitement. He is the quiet, introverted leader who remains cool and composed when dealing with the competition. His leadership comes through performance. This kind of demeanor can throw off an opponent. His humble attitude is how he conducts himself on land. Once he dives in, he is there to win and do his best.

“He is a quiet warrior, I would say,” head coach Dennis Pursley said. “His commitment to getting better and his openness to expand and step out of his comfort level to help the team is a positive influence on everybody.”

As we sat in the C.M. Newton Room in Coleman Coliseum, Gray answered questions with a soft smile on his face. His coaches and teammates all say that is a standout characteristic of his disposition. He is always introverted, yet ready to compete, laughing and smiling the majority of the time.

“My primary goal is the Olympics,” Gray said. “I want to get to the Olympics.”

What makes Alex different is, even though he possesses a soft smile and a quiet attitude, his goals are the opposite. This summer, he was able to swim at nationals for the first time with some of the nation’s best.

“He’s generally just a really happy guy,” said B.J. Hornikel, a former teammate and one of Gray’s closest friends. “He brings that to practice, and that makes everybody’s attitude better 
about practice.”

Gray’s relationship with Hornikel is one that has been instrumental in his growth as a swimmer for Alabama. They first met in the summer before Gray’s freshman year. They would practice together, competing and racing, while still trying to make the other one 
better overall.

“We started training, and right away he became a really good training partner,” Hornikel said. “And now through these years he keeps getting better and better. We have really good sets together, and we always rely on each other
 in practice.”

Alex came to Alabama possessing the raw athletic ability needed to succeed, but what everyone harps on now is his development. His physicality is considered ideal for a swimmer, being tall with a big upper body, but he did not have a lot of proper technique under his belt. Technique is something he has stressed when asked about his swimming ability.

From the moment Gray stepped on campus, he began to race Hornikel under the supervision of associate head coach Jonty Skinner. Rarely would Gray ever win these training races against Hornikel. As Gray has improved, he has been able to defeat Hornikel almost every time they race.

“Step one his freshman year was just to teach him how to swim,” Skinner said. “Give him a foundation that he could take and go forward.”

Even with little experience swimming, Gray got off to a good start early in his career at the University. During his freshman year, he swam a 20.16 in the 50-meter freestyle at SEC championships. Gray’s success carried over into his sophomore year, where he played a strong role in many of the team’s relay efforts. He was a part of the 200-meter relay team that placed fourth at NCAA. He also swam with the 200-meter relay team that captured an SEC title for the Crimson Tide. Gray’s success in his first two years at Alabama has his coaches believing he can achieve higher goals.

“It’s an elite club making the Olympic team, and it’s a semi-elite club to make the national team,” Skinner said. “I really don’t think that is beyond him.”

Gray leads by example. When I first spoke to him, I could tell he was not the vocal type that is going to rally the troops with a passionate speech or a physical incitement. He is the quiet, introverted leader who remains cool and composed when dealing with the competition. His leadership comes through performance. This kind of demeanor can throw off an opponent. His humble attitude is how he conducts himself on land. Once he dives in, he is there to win and do his best.

“He is a quiet warrior, I would say,” head coach Dennis Pursley said. “His commitment to getting better and his openness to expand and step out of his comfort level to help the team is a positive influence on everybody.”

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