On the morning of July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius, members of the Loyola Academy community in Wilmette enjoyed Mass and sent special prayers the way of Conor Dwyer.
By evening, the group’s prayers had been answered as Dwyer, a 2007 Loyola Academy graduate, captured a gold medal as one leg of the United States’ winning 800-meter freestyle relay at the 2012 Olympics in London. The winning effort earned widespread international attention as it served as the record-breaking 19th Olympic medal for Dwyer’s teammate, Michael Phelps.
“I’m a little bit shocked. I didn’t know what to expect coming into it. It was amazing that I made it and it’s just been an unbelievable experience,” Dwyer told NBC following the race.
Support from home
Within days of Dwyer’s goldmedal winning performance, a message board on the Loyola Academy Web site filled with congratulatory messages from dozens of alumni, staff members and parents.
Jesuit Father Brian Paulson, a Loyola alum who now serves as rector of the Jesuit Community at Loyola University Chicago, wrote “I want to … let you know how proud you have made all the alumni, families, Jesuits and friends of Loyola Academy by this incredible accomplishment and milestone in your life. May it be the stepping stone to all good things. St. Ignatius of Loyola wants us to savor these sorts of ‘consolations!’”
Dennis Stonequist, Dwyer’s high school coach at Loyola Academy and the school’s current alumni relations director, said he couldn’t put his joy for Dwyer into words.
“We’re all Conor Dwyer fans,” Stonequist said of the talented, hard-working kid he watched become an Olympic champion. “To see an alum set a goal and reach it, it just brings such a great sense of joy to our alumni community.”
Katie Carden has known the Dwyer family since Conor was seven. The former family tutor said Dwyer’s love of sports was evident early on as was a rare and persistent dedication to consistently offer his best effort.
“Conor’s commitment and work ethic got him to where he is,” Carden said.
Now the principal at Saints Faith, Hope, and Charity Catholic School in Winnetka, the school Dwyer and all four of his siblings attended, Carden said Dwyer will most certainly be getting a summons from the principal’s office upon his return home.
“A sense of work ethic developed in Conor early on and it’s transferred to everything he’s done, which is something important for our students to hear,” Carden said.
A late bloomer
In a sport where teenage phenoms are not uncommon, Dwyer would be considered a late bloomer in the pool. Though he earned many athletic honors throughout high school, Dwyer never placed higher than 10th at the Illinois High School Association Championships.
Dwyer’s athletic career, however, began to accelerate at the collegiate level — first at the University of Iowa and later at the University of Florida, where Dwyer spent his final two years and catapulted onto the national scene.
In his first year at Florida, Dwyer became the 2009-2010 NCAA Division I Men’s Swimmer of the Year as he earned seven All-American honors, including two individual titles, at the 2010 NCAA Championships. He followed up that performance with five additional All-American honors in his senior year.
Dwyer’s collegiate successes compelled him to continue training throughout 2011 and into 2012 for a shot at making the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.
Little did Dwyer know an Olympic gold medal awaited him in London.
“Winning gold — I couldn’t ask for a better first Olympics,” Dwyer said, hinting at plans that he may well pursue the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
At the London Olympics, Dwyer also competed in the 400- meter freestyle individual event. He finished fifth in that race, just two seconds shy of earning a bronze medal.