Swimmer Michelle Griglione — a perennial national team member from 1984 through '96, four-time Olympic trials competitor and a former NCAA champion — had so many wonderful accomplishments and moments throughout her illustrious swimming career. Griglione, who earned a silver medal at the World Championships in Madrid in 1986, is now a housewife and mother living in Orlando, Fla. She considers one of her grandest swim memories to be the one season she swam at T.C. Williams High School.
Griglione, an 1986 T.C. Williams graduate, had not been able to compete for her high school her first three years because the Titans did not have a swim team. So when one was created by the time she was a senior, the 12th grader, who at that point in her swim career had already competed at an elite level as a club swimmer, was thrilled beyond words.
"T.C. started a swim team in 1985," said Griglione, who at the 1988 Nationals in Orlando, Fla. captured first place in the 200-IM event. "I was real excited. I'd had all this success on my club team, but I couldn't compete for my high school."
Griglione, throughout her high school years and even to this day, is enormously proud of what T.C. Williams is all about — strong academics and outstanding extracurricular school activities, including athletics. She wanted to be able to swim for her home town school because she had such a passion for both the sport and her school.
"T.C. at that time, I felt, was not getting a lot of positive recognition. But I felt there were a lot of positive things going on [at T.C.]," said Griglione. "The things going on at T.C. were awesome — academically, [athletically with] the football team winning state championships. So swimming was something I could contribute."
She was elated when she finally got the chance to be a Titan swimmer her senior year. The team's coach in that inaugural season was Tinker Hawthorne. The Titans were not a good swim team and did not win any team meets. Griglione, a national level swimmer who had competed at the 1984 Olympic Trials as a 15-year-old and earned a gold medal the following year at the Pan Pacific Championships, was naturally the Titans' top talent.
But she did not take satisfaction out of being the standout swimmer for T.C. What she loved most about the experience of being a Titan team member was the enjoyment of being part of her teammates' lives and the camaraderie that came with that.
"I was doing my club stuff," recalled Griglione. "But the T.C. season was so fun because I was involved with the T.C. kids I hadn't been involved with. [My teammates] were so delightful, so kind."
Then, with a laugh, Griglione said, "We didn't win a single meet."
Competing at the club level and in national meets was something Griglione loved. But what she had been missing was taking part in swimming with her T.C. classmates. As a senior, she had that chance.
One memory of that season Griglione will always cherish was when her teammates came to that year's Northern Region championships to support her. Griglione was the only Titan swimmer who had qualified for regionals, but her teammates wanted to be there to support her.
"The whole team showed up," Griglione recalled. "It was fabulous. They were cheering."
Griglione still holds the region record in the 200-yard IM at 2:02.17.
GRIGLIONE, WHOSE FATHER John played football at Iowa State from 1968-70 under coach Johnny Majors, earned a full scholarship to attend Stanford University. Her sophomore year (1988-89), Griglione was both the PAC 10 and NCAA champion in the women's 400-IM event. She was named PAC 10 Co-Swimmer of the Year. But Griglione's favorite memory of that swim season was the Cardinal women's team capturing the national title.
"We'd had some coaching changes," said Griglione. "But even with all the changes we were able to pull together."
The Stanford women finished second at NCAA's in both of the following two years — an outstanding accomplishment of which Griglione is proud to have been a part.
Following college, Griglione, a 1991 Stanford graduate, continued swimming competitively. At that point, she had competed in two Olympic Trials in both 1984 and 1988. At both, she had barely missed making the Olympics team — finishing third in the 200-IM and fourth in the 400-IM in '84, and third and fourth respectively in the two events four years later.
She gave it her best shot again at both the 1992 and '96 Olympic Trials, settling for two fourth place finishes in '92.
She did earn a silver in the '95 Pan American Games in the 200-fly. During her post college swimming years, Griglione was coached by Rick Curl, the renowned Northern Virginia-area swim instructor who also coached the great Tom Dolan from Arlington.
GRIGLIONE SAID there were ups and downs in her career as a national team member. But overall, she loved her life as a national caliber star swimmer.
"Overall, it was just a fabulous experience," said Griglione. "I absolutely loved to swim and can't imagine anything different. Even though I was climbing the ladder nationally, those experiences were marvelous."
Griglione said some of her fondest recollections of swimming were as a youth swimmer growing up in Alexandria where she first competed at the local Alexandria `Y' as a young girl of five or six. Over the years, she would compete for both the Brookville Swim Club team (from age six to 13) and Lake Barcroft (through high school), both of which were members of the Colonial League. John Flanagan coached Griglione from age 12 on up into her college years.
Griglione said the family and community support she experienced over her youth swimming years in Alexandria were outstanding.
"The memories I have of growing up there and being in the summer leagues and during my year [swimming] at T.C. were wonderful," said Griglione.
In recent years, Griglione has earned a chemical engineering degree at the University of Florida. She worked as a simulation engineer for Agere Systems for five years.
Currently, Griglione and her husband Robert Baker, also an '86 T.C. Williams graduate, reside in Orlando with their daughter Penelope, who is almost three.
The couple knew each other in high school. Robert was an All-Met rower at T.C. and went on to compete in the sport at Northeastern University in Boston.
Both got re-acquainted when they ran into each other as graduate students at Florida.
Michelle, who is no longer working so she can be with her daughter, said Penelope loves to swim in the family's backyard pool.
Griglione loved the years she spent swimming competitively. She hopes Penelope one day finds something she loves to do as much.
"I really hope my daughter is able to find something that special," she said. Griglione, 37, said she misses competitive swimming. She said she will be attending a reunion at Stanford this October where she will take part in an alumni swim meet.
"I miss the friends and the day-to-day challenge and being in that incredible shape," she said. "You don't appreciate it when you're there."
Michelle Griglione is 52 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.