In this week’s Senior Moments, recent Bishop Alemany graduate Mitchell Riek tells us the similarities between swim meets and academic decathlons, why he prefers coming back from behind and how many of his passions derived from being the little brother who tagged along.
How did your love of swimming first come about?
Mitchell Riek: I started when I was 9. And at first, I did it just because my brother Matthew did it. I was the annoying little brother who was always tagging along. Watching him inspired me to push myself and get better. Plus, I tore my ACL and couldn’t play baseball anymore, so I needed a sport. Then, when I went into high school, I started to really get into it.
Do you take more pride in winning an IM or a relay?
Winning a relay. Definitely. My favorite thing to do was always to go last on the relay. I love having that pressure on me. It makes me want to work harder because I know that my teammates are depending on me to try to come back and win the race for them.
Do you actually prefer to be behind in a race?
I’ve always liked having someone a little bit ahead of me so that I can challenge myself to chase after. I pick someone out and say ‘I want to beat that kid.’ And then I just go for it.
You also participated in academic decathlons for Alemany. How did you get into that?
Also because of my brother. He did that his senior year of high school, and then, during one of his breaks his sophomore year of college, helped out Alemany’s academic team. I got to watch them give speeches and do mock interviews and I just kind of got interested in it.
Has being an athlete given you any sort of advantage in the way you approach academic decathlon?
For sure. It takes a lot of mental fortitude for long distance events. You really have to put your mind to it. And I think that really helped me out on tests. I really used what I learned in swimming about coaching myself and focusing to get through those last couple of tests.
How has your Catholic education and faith influenced the way you approach swimming and life in general?
Alemany has taught me a lot about faith. Especially with the junior and senior year retreats. Those were some of my favorite experiences at Alemany.
I actually went back and led the discipleship my senior year because it was such a profound experience for me. It did help me discover my faith, and help me strengthen it.
I figured, when I was first visiting Alemany and then Carnegie Mellon, that if this was the right place for me, I would just know it. It would be kind of that feeling of God telling me that this is where I should be.
Same for swimming, I guess. Being there with those kids, I had that same feeling of this being God’s plan for me.
With that in mind, do you look back on your ACL injury and feel like it happened for a reason?
Absolutely. When I first got to Alemany, I was really upset about the ACL injury. Baseball was my favorite sport. I loved playing it. But as I grew into swimming, I think it the injury closed one door for me, but opened up so many others.
Mitchell plans to swim and study Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon, a school he first visited when his family dropped off, you guessed it, his older brother.