2016 NCAA All-American in the 50-yard free, 100 free yard; honorable mention, 100-yard back
Gold, 50-meter back, World University Games
World-record holder, 200 SCM medley relay; American-record holder 50 SCM back
Bronze medalist, 50 SCM backstroke, 2016 Short Course World Championships
There is room for late bloomers in swimming.
Just ask Ali DeLoof.
“I didn’t realize that I could be really good at swimming until my sophomore year in high school,” says the backstroke and sprint freestyle specialist from Grosse Pointe Park, Mich. “That’s when I decided I wanted to swim in college.”
An 11-time conference champion and three-time state runner-up at the high school level, DeLoof chose to stay close to home, signing with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“I had always wanted to go to the school, and I knew I chose the right program when I went on a recruiting trip to meet the team,” she recalls. “The girls were kind and supportive of one another. They held each other accountable in and outside the pool. I also wanted to go to a school that had very strong academics, because my education is important to me.”
Although she was confident she chose the right program, she had her doubts about whether she was up to the challenges presented by a Division I program.
“I did not do double practices and had never touched a weight in my life before,” she says. “So my first couple weeks of swimming were very interesting. I didn’t think I was going to be able to be a Division I athlete with how demanding the sport of swimming was and be able to do school! “
DeLoof proved up to the task on both fronts, competing at NCAAs all four years and graduating with a bachelor’s in Psychology in 2016.
She saved the best season for last, making two NCAA championship finals as a senior in 2016. And she says it wouldn’t have been possible without the mental fortitude she developed following a a bad junior season.
“My junior year, I swam terrible at NCAAs and then came back my senior year to be an All-American in the 50 and 100 freestyle,” she points out. (Not too shabby considering those were her “fun” events — she was there to swim the 100 backstroke, in which she finished 11th.)
DeLoof credits her coaches for teaching her how to adjust to sudden change (like performing better in bonus races than the one she was there for).
The experience also taught her to trust her training: “If something went wrong or I had a bad swim, I had to brush it off and move on,” she says, “which is very hard in the moment!”
Thanks to her background in elementary education, DeLoof has a good rapport with kids and is able to parse technical details in a language they can understand, as well as passing on lessons that will stay with them long after her clinics.
“I want swimmers to walk away with a better understanding of what it means to be a competitive swimmer,” she says “and that they can do anything they set their mind to in the sport of swimming as long as they put the work in!”