Anthony Garono has a hunger for excellence.
Whether it’s in the classroom or the swimming pool, the Western Albemarle senior embraces every day as an opportunity to get better.
“From Day 1 of his freshman year, Anthony has been willing to take on any challenge that we have given him,” Western Albemarle swimming and diving coach Dan Bledsoe said. “As an incredibly talented distance swimmer, he takes on the toughest races and excels at them. Over his four years, he has also become very proficient at the sprint events, and this provides the team with roster flexibility that few teams in the state have.”
Garono has been a fixture in a Warriors program which has claimed five straight state swimming and diving championships at the VHSL Class 3 and Class 4 levels.
Last winter, he finished third in the 500-yard freestyle (4:43.62) and was sixth in the 200-yard freestyle (1:46.20) at the VHSL Class 4 state meet, earning all-state honors in both events. He also captured state gold as part of the Warriors’ 200-yard freestyle relay team.
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“It is an absolute honor to have been able to be a part of this incredible run these past few years,” Garono said. “I have been fortunate enough to have some of the best captains, leaders and teammates, while I was an underclassman to show me how to lead, inspire and motivate.”
Garono’s journey to swimming stardom began at the age of four when joined the Fluvanna Aquatic Sports Team (F.A.S.T).
“The team taught me how to swim,” he said. “With three young kids, my mom wanted us to be safe and comfortable around the water, so she made us all learn to swim at a young age.”
A year later, Garono started competing competitively and has done so ever since. His first event was the butterfly and he eventually progressed into all of the other strokes, except one.
“I never quite figured out breaststroke,” Garono said. “Even now, it is still laughable. My teammates will agree.”
All kidding aside, the Western Albemarle standout credits his family for allowing him to discover his true passion.
“As a kid, my parents were super supportive in letting me try whatever I wanted and I tried out a lot of different sports, but the one sport that stuck with me was swimming,” Garono said. “As I got older, I stared to understand the commitment needed to continue swimming at a higher level and I decided to go for it and have loved every second of it.”
That passion for swimming grew even more when he joined Bledsoe and the Warriors program.
“What I love about swimming is that it is a sport where dedication is rewarded,” Garono said. “I love that because it provides the opportunity to be around people who are just as invested in swimming as me. We embrace the 5 a.m. practices. We share the exhaustion when heading to school afterwards. We live for the long 3-4-day, out-of-town swim meets.”
Bledsoe said Garono’s energy is palpable.
“Despite his notable accomplishments in the pool, Anthony’s greatest contribution might be his unrelenting passion for the team and his teammates,” Bledsoe said. “You just need to spend a minute with Anthony at a dry-land workout or a swim meet to understand that his positive energy is truly infectious. His teammates feed off this energy and it helps to elevate their performance, and thus the performance of the team.”
Garono credits Bledsoe for bringing out the best in not just him, but all the swimmers in the Western Albemarle program.
“High school swimming at Western rejuvenated my love for swimming because of the environment at meets,” he said. “It is so energetic and it is just a lot of fun to be around. The Warriors team has really captured the spirit of competitiveness and the fun that comes from it and it is awesome to be around.”
In addition to swimming for Western, he also swims year-round for Cavalier Aquatics. Garono said during high school swimming seasons, he spends approximately 13 hours a week in the pool between club and school teams. That doesn’t include two dry-land practices a week for his school team, which are roughly an hour apiece.
“A normal days would start with a wake up at 4:25 a.m., driving to pick up two of my teammates, then heading into town for practice,” he said. “Following practice, we head back to Western Albemarle. Once school is over, me and all my high school teammates meet by the football field for dry land [practice]. Swimming takes up a majority of my time and I would not want it any other way.”
Garono said his favorite event has to be the 500-yard freestyle.
“It’s combination of sprint and endurance,” he said. “That combination allows for a good deal of strategy to be used and I love that side of swimming. In my opinion, there is nothing better than watching a well-executed 500.”
One of Garono’s inspirations during meets are his grandmothers. Before every meet, he spends a moment thinking about them and what they mean to him.
“I swim for them,” he said. “They live out of state, but they always support my commitment to swimming and they understand that my schedule isn’t flexible because of a six-day-a-week practices and all the meet weekends. I’ve missed a lot of family events, but they continue to show their support and love. They are fun to be around and love to feed me when I see them. I love the swim meets when they are in the stands. While they don’t always fully understand swimming, they unconditionally believe in me and support me in my journey.”
Prior to his individual races, he admits its easy for him to lock in
“Behind the blocks, I like to talk to my teammates and enjoy myself,” Garono said. “I do get in the zone once it’s time to get ready to step up onto the blocks.”
Two swimmers Garono looks up to in the sport are UVa swimmers Matt Heilman and Kate Douglass.
Heilman was a long-time teammate of Garono at Western Albemarle and was a part of three state championship runs. The duo have been friends since they were in elementary school and Heilman continues to inspire Garono.
“We have been friends for close to 15 years and what I have learned from being around him is how to work hard,” Garono said. “He is one of the hardest workers I have ever met, in all aspects of life, and his actions have taught me how to truly strive to be the best I can be. I swam alongside Matt for many years, but would definitely do it again because of the competitiveness and the fun that we have when we practice together.”
Douglass helped lead the Virginia women’s swim team to the 2022 NCAA national title and won a bronze medal for the United States in the 200 IM at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Garono has watched her swim in person at UVa several times and admires her competitive drive.
“Kate Douglass is the one that I look up to and am in awe of,” he said. “If I could swim alongside any swimmer, it would be her. She has faced so much pressure at the highest level of swimming, time and time again, and always performs terrifically. Her swimming at UVa has given me the opportunity to see her race and it is always a lot of fun to watch her compete. Swimming with Kate Douglass would definitely leave me in awe because she is one of the greatest swimmers ever and it would certainly be incredible to endure a tough practice sharing a lane with her.”
Speaking of national level swimmers, Garono can’t forget Western Albemarle teammate Thomas Heilman, who is the world junior record holder in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay and just recently set a number of national age-group records at last weekend’s East Winter Nationals in Greensboro.
“Swimming with Thomas Heilman is different,” he said. “It’s a blessing and something I cherish. He’s one of my best friends and always has been. Watching him success had been unbelievably exciting, but he is the same friend and teammate he has always been. We’ve carpooled for years and he gets in the car and walks on deck for practice every day, just like the rest of us. Of course, he pushes me every day through his abnormally fast swimming, and because we are close friends, we go back and forth motivating and pushing one another.”
Outside of the pool, Garono has plenty on his plate. Academically, he’s a member of the National Honor Society, the National Math Honor Society and the National English Honor Society.
An avid reader, he said he probably reads about 12 books a year, not including the required reading from school. Some of his favorite authors include Mike Lupica, Tim Green and Rick Riordan.
Garono also fancies himself as quite a cook. He likes to make eggs, pizza, stromboli and massive chocolate chip cookies. Marinated flank steak, pasta and cheeseburgers are also high-quality items on his list.
“I usually cook once a week, depending on my school schedule,” he said. “It also depends on if my sister, Sophie Garono, cooks because she is way better than me and her food is better.”
During the summer, he’s given back to the sport that has taught him so much as a coach for the Jefferson Swim League’s Crozet Gators.
“It is one of the most fun things that I have ever been able to do,” Garono said. “Being able to bring excitement to kids about swimming and see their growth as the season progresses is the best feeling in the world.”
His future plans include college and hopefully a potential opportunity to swim for a Division I program. The senior plans to pursue a career as a behavioral analyst. In addition, he’d love to stay involved in swimming, either as a coach or a volunteer at local meets.
The winter, Garono has taken over a new role for Western Albemarle after he was named one of the squad’s team captains. His leadership was on display last weekend during the team’s meet victory over Charlottesville and Fluvanna County at the Crozet pool.
Individually, he posted state qualifying times in the 100-yard backstroke (1:00.88) and the 400-yard freestyle (4:14.50) for the Warriors. But those weren’t the most important takeaways from the meet.
“I had a few goals this past meet, I wanted to achieve the state cuts for my two races, but more importantly, I wanted to support my teammates,” he said. “For some of my teammates, this was their first high school meet and it can be intimidating. I wanted to make them comfortable so they would enjoy the experience. To do that, I offered support to the underclassmen and tried to be the loudest voice on the desk cheering for them.”
Bledsoe couldn’t be prouder of Garono
“I am incredibly excited to see what this season holds for Anthony,” he said. “He has set big goals for himself and for the team. In my experience, when Anthony sets a goal for himself, he is going to achieve them.”
One of those goals is to help lead Western Albemarle to another state title. He said his team feels the pressure with its run of five straight titles and understands that other teams are gunning to knock them off.
The Warriors relish the challenge and the state title streak serves as motivation within the program as they look to give it their best every single meet.
“This Western team is incredible and I could not be prouder to be a captain of this year’s team and look forward to having a great year,” Garono said. “I would really like to win the state championship this year, both the boys and girls teams would be incredible. It would be the perfect way to cap off my high school swimming career.”