Feb. 10, 2014
BY: ROBBY VERONESI
At the end of his freshman season, Sean Lehane capped off a breakout SEC campaign on the podium at the 2013 SEC Championships in College Station, Texas.
Having earned the bronze medal in 200-yard backstroke, an event which he has excelled in since his days at Naperville High School, Lehane stood on the podium in front of a raucous crowd and his screaming teammates.
Yet, Lehane felt a little awkward, standing beside the top two finishers from Florida and Auburn.
"After each team gets their medals, they all have a sign that they do, whether it's the gator chomp or the A-U," said Lehane. "I was standing up there on the podium while they were doing their signs, so I decided to throw up a T towards my team, just to make it work with Tennessee."
It is still a question has to whether the T has fully caught on among the swimmers and divers in Knoxville, but Lehane's quick impact on the team's success certainly is not a question mark.
As a freshman, Lehane landed quite a few accolades, including an All-American award, as well as spots on the 2013 SEC All-Freshman and All-SEC second teams
Of course, if his high school success was any indication, this current stretch of awards should come as little surprise.
Back at Naperville High School, where Lehane swam for the Redhawks, a simple Illinois high school rule prevented Lehane from competing in his familiar backstroke at the state title.
"We had a big team, so we had a lot of fast swimmers on our high school team," said Lehane. "My sophomore year, I would have got top six at the state meet in backstroke, but because I wasn't the top two swimmers on my team, I wasn't able to compete at state meets.
"I definitely couldn't show how good I was until my junior year."
When Lehane finally had the chance to swim in the state championships a year later, he certainly took full advantage of his opportunity. The future Vol became the first swimmer from Naperville High School to win the backstroke at the championship level, edging out senior teammate and race favorite Jeff Depew.
"Looking back, (the milestone) didn't really click with me," said Lehane. "For the both of us to go 1-2 and help us score points for the team and get second overall in the meet was really incredible. It was really inspiring for myself and I really surprised myself in what I can do."
As a later result of his high school success, Lehane was selected to be a part of the NCSA Junior National team, which included a trip to Osaka, Japan. Lehane was one of two swimmers to be chosen from the nation's backstrokers, representing Illinois's Academy Bullets Swim Club.
"It was my first and only time so far to be able to compete internationally," said Lehane. "It was just such a great experience to compete against the Japanese swimmers. The pool was in a huge coliseum with stands all around. It was one of the highest competition pools in Japan. It was really cool to be able to compete in that."
No matter where Lehane swims around the world, his home base in Naperville always has been and will be a place of strong support. His mom, especially, has been a frequent visitor to UT's Swimming Twitter page (@Vol_Swim), expanding her support to the depths of social media.
"Even when I was in age-group swimming, she was able to tell me to be the best swimmer I could be," said Lehane. "She was really supportive, came to all my meets, drove me hundreds of miles to get to a swim meet.
"I find her as my biggest inspiration. She's the one who kept me going in swimming when I was thinking about doing other sports. That's when I started to get better."