New Kid on the Starting Block: Carbone Heads to Olympic Trials

February 28, 2020

Carbone takes a stroke in the pool

Drew Carbone (MSB ’21) may have qualified for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, but all he can think about right now is the Big East. Carbone (pronounced car-BONE-ee) is the second-ever Georgetown swimmer to qualify, after Molly Fitzpatrick (NHS ’18) in 2015. In June, he will head to Omaha to race against the best swimmers in the country.

As impressive as Carbone’s qualification is, what stands out most according to his teammates is an innate drive and positivity, coupled with an easygoing leadership that makes him a remarkable role model. When he mounts the starting block in Omaha, he will carry with him the legacy of a special role model.

For swimmers, the Olympics are a dream. There is no annual Super Bowl or World Series to work toward. At the trials, only the top two swimmers for each event qualify for the Olympics—and the top four are typically professionals. Carbone’s qualifying time in December 2018 was 56.46 for the 100-meter backstroke and 2:02.83 for the 200-meter backstroke. The winners of the 2016 qualifiers came in at 52.26 and 1:53.95 respectively.

Georgetown’s head swimming and diving coach Jack Leavitt sees Carbone as a partner in his coaching, and that he is successful due to his self-confident and goal-driven attitude. “He has an incredible amount of self-confidence—and not in an arrogant way,” Leavitt said. “It’s just like, ‘I’ve worked hard for something and I know that I’ve done the work. So I expect the result to be there at the end,’ which I think is pretty rare in a sport like swimming.”

Carbone was a member of Leavitt’s first recruiting class. He was attracted to Georgetown’s program in part because of the approach Leavitt took to coaching swimmers at an individual level, coming prepared with something specific to improve on at every practice. “A lot of college coaches just want to hit the reset button and do things their way for everyone. And I don’t think that really works,” Carbone said. “You have to understand what people have done for the past eight years to know how they’re gonna succeed in the next four.”

But Carbone’s success hasn’t come without challenges. Last February, Jeff Johnson, Carbone’s club coach at the Patriot Swim Club (PSC) in Massachusetts, passed away unexpectedly. Referred to by his swimmers exclusively as “Coach,” his death on the eve of the Big East Championship affected Carbone deeply. “I was broken,” said Carbone. “I was hurt, but I also felt a strong sense of responsibility. I know that Coach would have told me before the meet ‘Just go out there and race,’ and that is what I did. I knew the best way to keep him in my heart was to keep embodying the values that he helped instill in me.”

He went on to swim his fastest races of the season and became a two-time Big East champion in three solo events and a fourth relay event, breaking his own records and being named Male Most Outstanding Swimmer for the second consecutive year.

Nate Goldfarb (NHS ’21), a teammate and roommate, says what sets Carbone apart is his ability to keep a positive outlook while always staying hungry for more. “He’s always happy with where he’s at, but never satisfied.”

Carbone says he usually practices around 19 hours a week. This means swimming twice a day, plus conditioning. Now that he has had this time commitment for a few years, he says he likes the structure of it, and has even gotten a moisturization routine down. “I just put it in my reminders when I was getting over here to go buy lotion, to be honest,” Carbone said. “And this is the first year I’ve worn a cap to practice too. My hair is usually dead.”

He is also a leader outside of the pool, according to Goldfarb. “I call him ‘the Big Hoss’ because if there’s ever a problem, he’s going to solve it. He’s probably one of the most impressive kids I’ve met because he’s just firing it off on a hundred cylinders at all times.”

Teammate Sean Devlin (MSB ’22) swam with Carbone in the PSC before arriving at Georgetown. Devlin highlighted the impact Carbone had in his community at home.

“Every single kid in the whole league knew who he was,” said Devlin. “He was such a role model in his community because all those kids looked up to him because he was like The Guy, and he wasn’t just The Guy, but he was also like the nicest guy.”

Carbone hosted Devlin, who is a year behind him, for a weekend when he was deciding whether to swim for Georgetown. Devlin cited Carbone as a major factor in deciding to commit to GU. “I love the school so much because he was such a good host,” said Devlin. “I could just tell he was very serious about the team.” It turns out that he wasn’t the only one. According to Devlin, every single kid in his class on the swim team had Carbone as a host.

Carbone’s level-headed drive blended with competitiveness is something Devlin looks up to as a younger swimmer on the team. “Throughout the season you can just tell, he’s gonna race every single kid and probably beat every kid.” Devlin said. “And we all know that going into the race, but the other teams don’t know it.”

These values those around him emphasize—ambition, hard work, and balance—Carbone learned from Johnson. The environment in his swim club was one that allowed the best swimmers to rise to the top if they put in the effort. “With Coach, you succeeded on your own terms, he just provided the arena to do so,” Carbone said.

Johnson’s wife, Marj, recounted the work ethic her husband had in creating the PSC. “He had a full-time job during the day. He would go to work like at six in the morning and I wouldn’t see him till nine o’clock at night, but he loved what he was doing.”

According to his wife, Johnson knew early on that Carbone had great potential. “My husband was very serious about swimming, but he was very fun-loving and could be quite goofy when it came time to have practice—he made it fun,” Johnson said. “But Drew, he was very committed. He was very serious. Jeff knew right off that he was going to be a very good swimmer.”

The time Carbone spent at PSC, with fellow backstroker Coach, was instrumental in making him the swimmer he is today, and very directly impacted his winning a state title. “While he wasn’t coaching me during this time, I wouldn’t have been a state champion if not for his guidance while I was at PSC,” Carbone said.

Carbone stood out among the coach’s many swimmers and Johnson appreciates the impact that her husband had on him. “I know he had a picture of Coach in his room, his parents told me that one of the first things he put up when he got down there was his picture,” Johnson said. “They were pretty close. Jeff was very proud of him.”

Inès de Miranda
Inès graduated from Georgetown in May 2020. During her time at the Voice, she served as chair of the Editorial Board and wrote for most sections.

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