High School Sports

Out of his shell: Grambo embraces senior leadership, gives Mariners true team player in special season

Isaiah Grambo has always been a big contributor for the Sehome’s boys’ swim team. Last season, as one of two team captains, he had to take a leadership role, but he did it largely using the “lead by example” theory.

He’s a self-described introvert and someone who isn’t going to yell at his teammates if they’re horsing around. But as one of the Mariners’ seniors this season, Grambo knew his leadership had to take a different form.

“I definitely grew in the area of putting myself out there and being encouraging,” Grambo said in a phone interview. “I’ve gotten more vocal in encouraging people. ... The whole idea of being the team captain and all the roles infused with that.”

He now freely gets the guys together before a race and goes over goals and sometimes passes on some encouraging words. His leadership served a vital role for the Mariners, who placed second at the Class 2A State Championships last month, coming a point short of first-place Anacortes.

Grambo also finished fourth in the 50 freestyle and sixth in the 100 freestyle at state along while taking part in the second-place 400 freestyle relay. His most special moment, though, came in the 200 freestyle relay when he swam a blistering leg as Sehome finished just shy of a Class 2A state record in the victory.

For his contributions to the Mariners, Grambo has been selected The Bellingham Herald’s 2014-15 All-Whatcom County Boys’ Swimmer of the Year — his second time receiving the honor.

Grambo’s team-first attitude extends past his leadership and contributions in the pool to the events he chooses to swim in, as well. After finishing fourth at last year’s state championships in the 100 butterfly, it was strange to see his name omitted from the event altogether this season.

Grambo chose to compete in the 100 freestyle this year instead, knowing he couldn’t swim three consecutive events. Despite the butterfly being one of his favorite disciplines, he knew freshman Zach Shenkin could fill the role for Sehome, and the end goal was a team state title.

“Each year it’s a choice,” Grambo said.

But while Grambo’s individual accomplishments were outstanding, his role in the 200 freestyle relay, which was remarkably quick all year, was truly special.

After Sehome’s 200 medley relay was disqualified at state last year, it was a little redemption to have a relay that ranked tops in the state for most of the season.

“It was definitely disappointing last year. We were determined not to get any DQs this year,” Grambo joked.

The Mariners did exactly that, and Grambo swam a faster 50-yard leg in the 200 free relay than he did in the open 50.

“It was very exciting, definitely a great experience,” Grambo said of the relay’s success all season. “It was definitely a good team bonding sort of thing — everyone working together, encouraging each other.”

While Grambo often swam anchor in the relays, his mindset didn’t change in the event. His focus is very singular when it comes to swimming — just work hard and swim the fastest you can, Grambo said.

As for the wait while his teammates are finishing their legs, Grambo said sharp focus is important.

“I just try to clear my mind, get it as clear as possible,” Grambo said. “The key is don’t have your mind wandering. I run through a little what the race is going to feel like, visualize a little bit. ... It’s amazing how much faster or slower you go depending on your mindset.”

As much as Grambo has meant to the Sehome program the past four years, it’s given just as much back to Grambo.

“It’s a great team. Four years swimming with these guys, for sure I’ll miss the camaraderie and all of that,” Grambo said. “It’s been a really good experience all around for me.”

One of the most memorable moments for Grambo came last season, when the Mariners topped Squalicum and Bellingham in dual meets each by one point. It allowed Grambo to go four years without a dual meet loss and continued the Mariners’ dual meet win streak, which now stands at 40.

“It was so intense. The feeling after we won, the relief. The knowing we had really stepped up and done that. That was probably the highlight,” Grambo said. “You’ve been winning for a while and can get complacent. You can lose for sure, so there’s that extra pressure to keep the winning streak, the tradition or legacy.”

Sehome will, without a doubt, miss the senior, who plans to major in computer science at whichever college he chooses along with studying various languages — the first on his list is Arabic. He said he’ll try to swim in college if he goes to a smaller school.

“I want to focus on my studies and future career, but it’s been a sport I really love,” Grambo said. “It’s quite a large part of my life.”