When Dave Salo was recruiting Reed Malone, the Southern California men’s swimming coach told the New Trier standout he could be an Olympian one day.
“That’s not something I tell every kid, but that was my assessment of him,” Salo said. “I saw some things in his swimming skill that was on target, and I could see that he was coachable.”
Aaron Peirsol and Amanda Beard were two other swimmers who were on the receiving end of Salo’s Olympic pitch during the recruiting process, the coach said. Peirsol went on to compete in three Olympic Games, and Beard made four Olympic appearances.
Malone, a 19-year-old sophomore from Winnetka, has made major strides toward living up to the lofty standards Salo set for him. Last month, Malone was one of 30 American men at the Pan-Pacific Games in Australia, swimming in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter freestyle races. He didn’t qualify for the finals in any of three, but the experience alone was beneficial.
“Easily the biggest meet I’ve ever swam at,” said Malone, who won three individual state titles at New Trier. “I was humbled and honored to have been part of it all.”
Even though he’s spent only one full season in college, Malone said Salo already has played a big role in his development. As a freshman, Malone finished 14th in the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Men’s Division I Championship.
“He’s instilled in me the mentality that I belong at these big meets, and that’s helped me a lot,” said Malone, who swam at the Phillips 66 National Championships in early August and earned a spot at the World Championships next year in Kazan, Russia. “When I first got to Australia, being around swimmers like Michael Phelps, I was kind of star struck. But then I realized I belonged here.”
Salo said the 6-foot-3 Malone has the physical tools to be a successful swimmer. But Salo said Malone needed to believe he could be one of the best in his sport.
“It’s paramount to have the mind-set and vision to see yourself in these scenarios,” Salo said. “If not, it’s not going to happen for you. Reed is understanding that now.”
As for his Olympic trajectory? Salo said Malone is “on the right path.”
This comes as no surprise to Mac Guy, who has known Malone since the swimmer was in elementary school at Crow Island. It wasn’t until Malone matriculated to New Trier that Guy, who worked as an assistant on the boys team when Malone was an upperclassmen, saw his true potential.
“He was about 13 or 14 when I started warming up to the idea that he could be a tremendous swimmer one day, maybe the best ever in Illinois,” said Guy, now the head coach for the New Trier girls swimming team.
“He’s uber-talented, and he knows how to move in the water. You combine his work ethic and drive, and he can be unstoppable. I think he’s accepting his potential now, and the sky’s the limit.”
At the World Championships next year, Malone will be closer yet to his dream of swimming at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“[The Pan-Pacific Games] was a good steppingstone to Rio and good exposure for the national team,” he said. “It really gave me the confidence I need to make that next step.”