Rough Crossing: The Spiritual Journey For Nate Savoy’s Family To the NCAA Championships

Nate Savoy men's NCAA Division I championships
Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Editorial content for the NCAA Division I Championships is sponsored by Nike Swim. For full Swimming World coverage, check out our coverage page.

By Michael J. Stott

At this week’s NCAA men’s swimming and diving meet, we have seen some of the fastest swims in history. There are also many unseen moments, some probably more compelling than the action in the pool, and certainly more heartwarming.

Nate Savoy is a senior captain for Penn State who was recruited out of high school as a backstroker and IMer. “Believe it or not, I am the kid no one knows,” Savoy said. “I had the state record before David (Nolan) did.” I swam a lifetime best (1:47) and thought I was going slow because he was four to five body lengths ahead of me (Nolan swam a 1:41.39 in 2011).”

Swimming is billed as a life sport. Children begin when young and are nurtured by parents and coaches. If they are lucky, they swim in college. If luckier still, they make it to NCAAs. Which brings us back to Savoy, who tied for 12th (45.85) in the 100 back after Friday prelims. Nate is in Iowa City thanks to an unbelievable work ethic and training regimen. His dad, Rich, is in Iowa City as well, thanks to a surgeon’s skilled hand and perhaps some divine guidance.

Rich Savoy’s saga began at the Big Ten championships last month. Painful headaches sent him to seek help the Sunday following the meet. A CAT scan revealed a large egg-sized brain tumor over his right eye that had actually pushed his brain to the left. “In retrospect, I had probably had the tumor for two years as I had been having headaches that long,” Rich Savoy said.

“It has been a traumatic experience,” says Rich. “Christian faith is an important part of our lives and an important part of the journey for me. Basically I feel good and am absolutely thrilled to be here. Having seen almost all of his college meets, we wanted to do whatever we we could to be here for for Nate.”

Nate’s pre-race routine is not always visible to the public. Prior to taking the blocks, the athlete routinely kneels and repeats some words from the Book of Philippians that give him inspiration for the competition ahead. Rich Savoy, a 33-year e-commerce sales leader for IBM, is watching his son’s races with what Nate calls “a gnarly scar on his head.” In truth, it is seems barely noticeable.

“I was afraid I might not be here,” says the father.

What matters to both father and son is that they are here together. “His presence means the world,” says Nate.


  1. avatar
    Guy Templin

    Our prayers are with the Savoy Family.

  2. avatar

    Mr. Savoy is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. We are so lucky that he is here with us one this trip.

  3. avatar
    Jim Lutz

    Fast times are great, but the behind-the-scene real life stories are what makes sports special. As the article mentioned getting to this meet is special, scoring is awesome, sharing it with love ones…priceless.

  4. avatar
    Josh Brammer

    I worked for Rich about two years at IBM. He is one of the most sincere, genuinely kind human beings I know. I hope all the best to Rich and his family.

  5. avatar
    Howard Donnell

    The Savoy’s are one of the sweetest family’s on earth! They are blessed and I’m just glad I can say that I know them.