When 20-year-old Christian Aragona made the cut for the 2016 Olympic Trials in the 50-meter freestyle on July 15 at the 2015 Speedo Central Section Region VIII Meet at the Mizzou Aquatic Center in Columbia, Mo., his career flashed before his eyes.
Now a physically chiseled junior-to-be for the Missouri Tigers, Aragona thought back about how it all started as a five-year-old with the Tri City Tidalwaves.
“It's been a lifelong dream,” Aragona said. “I started swimming for the Tidalwaves when I was five and then in high school and college and now. I've been training for this.
“It was really surreal and it culminated my career. It made all those early mornings feel worth it.”
Aragona declared that he would use the split time during his 100-meter freestyle to attempt to qualify for the 50 free. He turned in a time of 23.06 in his first 50 meters. The qualifying time was 23.29. He hit the time on the nose in the 100 free finals on July 18, too.
He reminisced of how it almost changed during his high school career. As a freshman at Metro East Lutheran High School in Edwardsville, Aragona placed his swimming career on hiatus.
“I started high school not knowing what I wanted left to get out of my swimming career,” Aragona said. “I was having a tough time in eighth grade and freshman year, I wasn't swimming very well. Freshman year I decided to play basketball and essentially took most of the winter season of swimming off, but then at the end of my freshman year I decided I wanted to start getting back into swimming a little more, but then it was always splitting time between swimming and baseball.”
Aragona became a standout on the MELHS baseball team, splitting time between shortstop and pitcher. He was finding success on the diamond and in the pool and he needed to decide which avenue to concentrate on for college. Then a fluke situation made his decision for him.
“At the end of my junior year, during the regional championship game of baseball, I ended up tearing my labrum in my shoulder,” Aragona said. “After the game we were celebrating and we did a dog pile and my shoulder got twisted and got caught underneath the dog pile. I had to have surgery to repair that going into my senior year and I was out of the pool and out of baseball for like eight months. I was just doing a lot of rehab and essentially I didn't throw super well after that. Now I'm fully recovered, but to throw a baseball or pitch again I wouldn't be at the same caliber, so I was able to get back into swimming and had a good senior year.”
That solid senior campaign earned Aragona a scholarship to Western Kentucky, but once he got there it didn't seem right. He tallied 14 top-10 finishes and three top-10 finishes as a freshman, but believed he could get more from his career.
“I decided to transfer and Mizzou ended up being the perfect option at that point for swimming,” Aragona said. “I came to Mizzou as a sophomore. My training regimen at Western Kentucky just wasn't very sprint specific, so I didn't really swim very well there. At Mizzou we have some really great coaches and they've really helped me out. The team is fantastic, we really push each other in practice.
“It's also helped me out being closer to home. It's about two hours from Godfrey and it's been nice being in my element here. I don't really feel like I'm away for school. I've been swimming meets at Mizzou since I was like 10 years old...Just being at the pinnacle of the Division I level has been really motivating and given me all the tools I need to succeed.”
As a sophomore he became a first-team All-American as part of the 200-meter freestyle relay team. He helped the Tigers finish sixth in the 200 free relay in the NCAAs, the best relay finish in program history.
Mizzou is allowing Aragona to reach his potential and he's able to do it close to where it all started. He'll never forget his days with the Tidalwaves or Summers-Port Sharks. Those programs will always be dear to his heart.