Abrahm DeVine Stepping Out as Elite IMer and Gay Swimmer

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By David Rieder.

Before he came to Stanford in the fall of 2015, Abrahm DeVine never saw himself becoming a nationally-relevant swimmer. But at the end of that first year, he “blew my times out of the water” at the Pac-12 championships and qualified for the NCAA championships, only to be intimidated by what he saw on the national level.

“I was shocked by how fast it was. I never paid close attention to NCAAs or anything like that,” he said. “You look up to those seniors and those really fast guys as another animal.”

Very quickly, DeVine became one of those pace-setters that another naïve freshman might look to as an animal. He qualified for the 400 IM A-final at his first NCAA championships, and a few months later at Olympic Trials, he finished ninth in the prelims of the 400 IM, and after scratches, he had the opportunity to swim in the final that night.

“Freshman year, Scott (Armstrong) was my coach back then, and I think he saw a lot in me and really pushed me a lot. We also had a really, really good 400 IM group with Curtis (Ogren) and Max (Williamson),” DeVine said. “I just started getting confidence.”

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DeVine after qualifying for the 2017 World Championships — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Over the next two years, DeVine’s career took off, and his momentum from that breakthrough freshman year snowballed. Over the next two years, he would qualify for the World Championships and then the Pan Pacific Championships as the second-place finisher in the 200 IM at Nationals behind Chase Kalisz. In March of 2018, he won his first individual NCAA championship in the 400 IM—by more than three seconds.

But even as he experienced those dramatic highs, the seeming ability to do no wrong in the pool, DeVine found himself questioning whether he even belonged in college athletics or on his team at Stanford.

“I’m a gay athlete. There aren’t too many of us, so when I came out to my college team, that was a really tough time for me,” DeVine said.

In swimming circles, DeVine is correct: There are very few openly gay swimmers competing on the elite level. Even as modern society has become more accepting of the LGBT community, DeVine was worried how his teammates would react to his announcement and if they would still accept him.

“Growing up gay in any sport is definitely tough,” DeVine said. “There’s a culture that is created in a lot of sports where being gay is an insult. It’s something that gets tossed around and makes you not want to go to practice or not want to hang out with the team or be a part of the team.”

Before he came out to his team, DeVine told Williamson, who had graduated but still lived nearby. In his former teammate, he found care and support. “He did a lot for me and was really there for me as a friend,” DeVine said.

And when he told the rest of the team, DeVine quickly found that his apprehensions were unfounded. His Stanford teammates and coaches received the news warmly and were only upset to hear that he had been struggling with the decision to come out.

“I remember that being a pretty emotional time, and just feeling my whole team wrap around me and feeling that love in a place where I hadn’t really felt it, that was definitely pretty special for me,” DeVine said. “Just seeing them kind of prove me wrong was definitely special, something I’ll never forget.”


More from Abrahm DeVine:

What are some of your biggest interests outside the pool?
My parents, sometime last year or the year before, picked up ukulele. We just have a ton laying around the house—I don’t know they got such a big collection going so quickly. When I was bored, I would pick it up when I was home. I started playing, practicing, learning some songs. Since then, I’ve been pretty into it, so I’ve been trying to learn that, figure that out.

What do you want to do after you finish swimming?
It’s a question I ask myself every day. I really am kind of intrigued by startups. I like that culture of working in a small team with a common goal. Honestly, I’m not really sure. I would like to do something with the environment, and it would feel really good to make an impact in that realm. Honestly, I haven’t thought too much about it since swimming has been going well, so I’ve been focusing on what it really means to swim after college.

At Olympic Trials, when you finished ninth in the 400 IM and got scratched into the final, what was that experience like, and what did you learn from that experience?
Olympic Trials was just a fun meet for me. I kind of knew I wasn’t going to make the Olympics, so I was just going for fun. I had had a really good short course season, and I knew I was a good long course swimmer. I was just having a good time. When I heard I got ninth, I wasn’t too bummed. I just put so little pressure on myself at that meet. Making the final was just really cool. I had never swum at a meet at that level. In terms of what I learned, just to be confident in myself and swim my own race. I knew I wasn’t really going to be making the team, which should be the goal of Olympic Trials, but I knew I could still put up a race and do my best.

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DeVine after winning the 2018 NCAA title in the 400 IM — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In 2017, what was it like racing in a pressured situation like that (at Nationals) with a chance to make the team?
That summer when I made Worlds, that was a huge surprise for me. I didn’t really feel the pressure, but I knew to trust myself and my training and put together the best race that I could, and it just came together really, really well, and I put up a really great swim. I remember from the race, I didn’t think for a second that I was about to make the Worlds team. This past summer, I felt that pressure to repeat that performance. I’ve been swimming since I was 10, and treating a meet like it’s any other meet is important to swim your best race.

Do you feel like you’re still learning how to race internationally? Do you think you’re as confident in a situation like that?
I still haven’t put up a best time internationally. Probably I’m still learning, even if maybe I don’t want to think that. To me, I feel like I am a pretty confident racer and performer. It just hasn’t fully happened for me internationally. Maybe I should take a step back and see why things aren’t quite clicking. I still feel comfortable racing in Japan or Budapest or wherever.

When you have gone on these National Team trips, do you feel like you have meshed well with the team?
I would say so. I’ve made some good friends . (Stanford and Pan Pacs teammate) Grant (Shoults) and I are good friends, so it was definitely fun going with him. I’ve definitely made some good friends. Especially this last year, I really liked the group a lot. I knew a few more people going in and some people who I knew that hadn’t made it the previous year. It was tons of fun, great experience, and I really liked the team.

How is it easier the second time, knowing what to expect and knowing more people?
The second time, I didn’t so much feel like a newcomer. It was my third year on the national team, so I started to feel like more of an expected member of the team, which is kind of cool.. Everyone who’s new on the team has to do those rookie skits, so not having to do that, just watching them, it was definitely a different feeling. The only difference is how I felt about it and approaching it differently. I just felt more comfortable. I felt like everyone knew who I was this year, whereas maybe last year that wasn’t the case.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Being in your last year at Stanford, what sense of responsibility to the team and finality of the situation do you feel going into this season?
This season should be pretty good. I think we have our strongest team since I’ve been here, so that’s exciting. Our freshmen are looking really, really good. I think our senior class is really, really strong. I think our medley relay right now is looking to be all seniors, which is really cool. It’s just exciting. I want to finish my last short course season out on a good note, and I think my whole class is on board with that, too. Everyone just wants to finish really strong. It’s not uncommon for seniors to start looking ahead to the future a little bit, to what their job’s going to be and their life afterwards and lose focus on swimming, and I’m just not feeling that from my class. I think we’re all pumped and ready to go, really attack this year.

You have said how easy it is to swim as part of a college team. How do you get excited about making it about yourself?
That’s pretty tough. I wasn’t really sure if I was going to keep going after college, just because I think it is going to be really hard. I like going to dual meets—it really does feel like a team sport, which is a ton of fun. I think I might struggle a little bit with focusing on myself and sitting on the side while everyone else is going to a dual meet and Pac-12s and NCAAs. Those meets are a ton of fun, and I don’t think that experience can be replicated going to Pan Pacs or Worlds. People are looking out for themselves. It will be different, but I think I will look for ways to make it fun and exciting. Instead of being scared of how different it will be, I’m going to try to find things to get excited for.

Trying to make the Olympics does sound pretty exciting.
(Laughs) That’d be cool.

Do you think you will be a little bit sentimental as you get through some of these big dual meets and then Pac-12s and NCAAs?
I’m sure it will be a little bit sad. All six of us in my class, no one dropped out over the course of the four years. We’re just really tight as a class. It will certainly be sad to continue on without those guys. I might get a little bit teary-eyed. Who knows?

39 Comments

39 comments

  1. Adrienne Quinn Washington

    Love to see athletes living and speaking their truth… all the best to Abe! ❤️ Great article as always, David.

  2. Kayla Simon

    Proud of you, Abe. Keep living your life and being YOU. I can’t wait for the dual meets this season! ❤️🌲

  3. Kathryn Meinhardt

    Awesome swimmer but Idk why his being gay is of interest

    • Adrienne Quinn Washington

      Because athletes are whole people, not limited to their athletic performance. With a history of homophobia in high-level sports, having gay athletes willing to be open about their life can make things just a little bit easier for the next generation.

    • Kathryn Meinhardt

      Adrienne Quinn Washington Makes no sense why we give a crap about who anyone is sleeping with.

      • avatar
        Rene

        And yet we do. And until we don’t, articles like this highlighting the courage of those willing to step out will be significant for those still questioning.

      • avatar

        Where in the article did it mention that Mr. Devine is sleeping with anyone?

    • Joanne Newton

      Adrienne Quinn Washington 👏👏👏👏👏👏

    • Charlotte Cusachs Bujoreanu

      None of the swimmers care. I have never noticed homophobia in swimming and I have been around the sport for over 40 years. This could possibly be news in another sport. Maybe he just doesn’t want to be just another “Swimmer” so found a label?

      • avatar
        HulkSwim

        Some of the comments are gross.

    • Kirk Nelson

      Charlotte Cusachs Bujoreanu I think it’s better than other sports, but homophobia still exists in swimming. Perhaps as a female in the sport you didn’t see it as much, and I will say I don’t see it today as much as 30 years ago, but it’s lurking beneath the surface.

    • Amy Heebner Davis

      Charlotte just because it wasn’t your personal experience doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to other swimmers – plus sharing his experience will help many other swimmers know they are not alone

    • Sarah Welch

      Homophobia is alive in USA-S. Think about high school and college kids. They may have no exposure to gay or lesbian athletes. They are learning. They are in inquiry. Athletes who speak out make it easier for the next group coming up. Every public statement helps.

    • Susan L. Lansbury

      Charlotte Cusachs Bujoreanu agree! I have swam for 49 years and never gave a hoot! Found out some of my college teammates were gay later….and again, no one cared! Still friends and teammates years later!

  4. avatar
    Anonymous

    Congratulations on all your great success! Thank you for being an athlete with great courage to speak freely about who you are. When you speak honestly about being gay, as an athlete, you pave the way for all athletes and people, to openly be who they are. Some day, hopefully in the near future, it will be a non issue to be an openly gay athlete.

  5. avatar
    Nikki Fralick

    Congratulations on your great success and thank you for your great courage to openly speak about who you are! When you swim as an openly gay athlete, you pave the way and encourage all athletes and all people, to freely say who they are.

  6. avatar
    HulkSwim

    I remember Abrahm as an 11-12, specifically at Zones. What always stuck with me was his ability to focus, even at a young age, on doing all the right things at a meet. Warm-up/cool-down, mental toughness, race execution- all were way above average for a young kid.

    It’s been awesome watching his continued success over the years.

    • avatar
      cynthia curran

      That is what is important in swimming. Is having a focus.

  7. avatar
    cynthia curran

    Well, swimmers when I was a kid were more into Cliques. Didn’t date until 21 years old. I’m straight, so yes one wonders people reaction if you are out of the mainstream.

  8. Sarah Welch

    Great, brave declaration.
    Abrahm DeVine is coming into his own in so many ways.
    Awesome

  9. Susan L. Lansbury

    Who cares if he’s gay? He’s an awesome swimmer, period!

  10. avatar
    David Orr

    Your Cascade swim family loves you and supports you, Abrahm. Get after it Senior year, we are all cheering for you!!

  11. Sharon Rinaldi

    How in the world could anyone be opposed to that!!

  12. avatar

    As a gay swimmer in Berkeley, California (U.S. Masters Swimming), it is important and affirming for me to see this article, and read about the diversity in our extended swim family. Thank you.

  13. avatar
    Dan

    Abrahm, thanks for your courage. Congratulations on your success at Stanford and the international arena.

  14. avatar
    Carrie DeVine

    Proud of you Abrahm!!! Always have been….always will!!! One of your many fans in Iowa!!!❤️

    • avatar
      Susan DeVine

      Your Idaho family is proud of you!! We are cheering for you!

  15. avatar
    Sussn DeVine

    Your idaho family is proud of you!! We are always cheering for you

  16. avatar
    Susan DeVine

    Your Idaho family is proud of you!! We are cheering for you!

  17. avatar
    Sue DeVine Frese

    Sending more ♥️ from your Iowa family! We are so incredibly proud of you and all of your accomplishments!

Author: David Rieder

avatar
David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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