Mallory Comerford Re-Enters Water on a Mission for 2021 Olympics

Mallory Comerford at the 2019 World Championships. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Mallory Comerford has spent months out of the water, doing everything she can to get her body ready to compete for an Olympic spot.

So getting back into the water was a bit of an adjustment.

“It is our third week in the pool. We started with about an hour a day. Now 1:45 — next week, we are starting doubles,” Mallory Comerford told Swimming World. “I feel like I am getting in shape more than I have been.”

But it wasn’t easy.

“That first week was really getting back into it and doing technique stuff. We did 15 100s to see what we could hold as a test. I was able to hold close to what I usually could, but my heart rate was way higher,” she said. “A lot of it is getting our aerobic base up before we really start getting into power. It has been very enjoyable being back. Mentally, that is the best part for me. It has been a way for me to be in my own world. Having that again has been really awesome.”

The four-time Louisville NCAA champion made the most of her dryland months, too, mixing up a variety of exercises and activities.

“We set up a garage gym at home. I have a Peloton, a treadmill, a punching bag, a weight bench. I had a good gym setup, so I was doing a lot of that. I was just trying to keep it interesting,” Comerford said. “For a while there was a group on the national team doing a Peloton class together. I went so much harder when I did that class with them.”

Comerford spent plenty of time walking her dog and doing everything she could to stay outdoors.

“I just tried to stay outside as much as possible. That was the best way for me to stay positive and be motivated,” she said. “When I am swimming, I never really got that much time outside. I probably haven’t spent this much time outside since I was 10. You don’t always realize how much time swimming takes up.”


Mallory Comerford Photo Courtesy: Arena

The result has been a stronger body. The transformation has been especially apparent in her legs.

“Definitely my legs have gotten stronger. Everything out of the water is pretty much leg based. They have gotten a lot stronger, which I am excited about. I am looking forward to seeing that transfer into the pool,” she said. “I was running and doing all of these things with my legs, I had to get on the punching bag and get some arm workouts. My legs were something that needed more strength. Having a lot of time out of the pool was mentally good, and a way to challenge myself in new ways.”

Easing back into the water, Comerford is facing another challenge that most post-grad groups that train on college campuses are facing.

“The pros are not allowed at Louisville yet, because they are giving priority to current students, which makes sense. They are doing it in groups of 15 and getting tested,” she said. “We have been told the post-grad group will probably not be back at U of L this summer. We have been swimming at another pool in Louisville.”

Trials Then and Now

Comerford was ready for the Olympic Trials this year. After transforming herself into one of the world’s elite, she was finally ready to throw down at Trials.

But COVID-19 happened, and like all swimmers, she had to refocus.

“At first, I was really upset. I didn’t know how to express how I was feeling at all. But I was out of the pool in this panic. I knew I wouldn’t be as prepared if Trials still happened,” she said. “Once I got over that initial feeling, it stinks but I was planning on swimming until 2024 anyway. Pushing it a year back is tough to go through, but it gives me another year to get better as a swimmer and learn more about myself.”

Learning about herself has been one of the prime reasons for Comerford’s success over the years.


Mallory Comerford’s first NCAA title in 2017. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In 2016, she made the semifinals in the 100 and 200 free at the Olympic Trials. She swam best times, but wasn’t satisfied.

“I think that meet for me was a really big turning point. It was a realization of what I wanted to do in my career. I knew I didn’t really have a chance at making the team, but I knew I could have performed better. Being able to go to 2016 and experience that meet was so important. It is like no other meet. There is so much tension in the air. Being able to live it and understand it was so motivating,” Comerford said. “It fueled me going forward into the next year. It made me appreciate the sport. I am thankful I had the meet I did, but I wanted to do better. That kept me going.”

It made her realize what four years of work could do.

“Definitely making the team has been my goal since then. I just need to keep finding a way to get a little better,” she said.

Late Bloomer

Comerford, who is coached by Arthur Albiero, grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and swam for Plainwell High School her first two years, winning four state championships along the way.

But then she swam club the final two years and didn’t really travel to compete past sectionals, making her a relatively unknown commodity when she signed with Louisville.

200 free tie

Katie Ledecky and Mallory Comerford. Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

“My last two high school years, I didn’t swim high school. I never really traveled much and just trained,” she said. “I had really never experienced a high-level competition outside of sectionals. I was used to going to regional meets, swimming the same people. When I got to college, I had so much to learn and had so many training opportunities. I actually found out I knew nothing about swimming. I was learning about tempo and stroke rate — I had no idea. It was a combination of me asking a thousand questions and taking everything in as a sponge.

“I was so excited to be there. I had never trained long course before. I had never lifted weights before. I am thankful for my high school and club career because it got me to Louisville.”

At Louisville, Comerford surprised herself, catapulting her times into the nation’s elite group. It continued when she tied Katie Ledecky for the NCAA title in the 200 free as a sophomore, then defended that title twice and added the 100 free title as a senior.


Mallory Comerford competing for the Cali Condors at the ISL Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

“I went to school the summer before my freshman year. I was already dropping a ton of time. I was improving and learning so much. I made my first final at nationals and got fifth. It was about building confidence,” she said. “I really surprised myself to get second at NCAAs as a freshman. I had no idea I was in that group. I realized I could be really good at this. I have always had that drive and competitive edge — I love racing.”

She has won four gold medals and two silver at the World Championships (2017 and 2019) on relays, plus five golds in relays at short-course worlds in 2018, plus a silver medal in the 200 free and a bronze in the 100 free. She also swam for the Cali Condors in the inaugural season of the International Swimming League (ISL).

Swimmers for Change

Comerford loves racing, but also loves the platform she has earned by being on the national team.

She, along with several other Team USA swimmers joined forces as part of Swimmers for Change. The group has started giving live webinars to talk to people about what is going on in the country and raising money for important charities.

“It is my job and I enjoy it,” she said. “It allows me to use my platform.”

Comerford is scheduled to talk with Kelsi Dahlia and Zach Harting at 2 p.m. ET on June 24.

“We are talking about building a positive team culture and doing a question and answer session,” Mallory Comerford said. “Our charity is The Conscious Kid. … educating on racism and sending out resources to make sure the conversation continues. I am really thankful for Lia (Neal) and Jacob (Pebley) for organizing it. As swimmers, it is important to use our platform to be better than we were before. We need to be open to having tough discussions. Being able to be part of people’s lives with this and doing Zoom calls with clubs has been such a good way to give back.”