Published March 19. 2014 4:00AM
New London - March Madness means something different to junior Christian Brindamour.
Brindamour has been squeezing in intense swimming workouts into an already hectic Coast Guard Academy cadet life.
He's never backed away from a challenge.
"I love to push myself," Brindamour said.
Thanks to a tireless work ethic, razor sharp focus and natural talent, he's closing in on his ultimate goal: winning a national championship.
There's a strong possibility that he can make that happen this week at the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He has the best qualifying time in the 50-meter freestyle, which is held today, the first day of competition.
"It's humbling," Brindamour said of owning the top time. "It's not something that I anticipated."
He set the fastest time of 20.11 seconds in the preliminaries at the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference Championships last month.
He earned the conference's Swimmer of the Year honors after setting pool records in the 50 and 100 freestyle at the NEWMAC Championship meet. He posted a winning time of 20.30 in the final and also took first in the 100 freestyle in 45.64, finishing 1.25 seconds faster than the rest of the field.
This is his second straight trip to the nationals, as he competed in three events last year. His best finish came in the 50 freestyle, placing 16th.
The experience fueled his desire to work even harder to achieve his goals.
"He got a little taste last year and that really engaged him in the process," coach John Weskott said. "He's got his eyes set on some lofty goals. This is a stepping stone. We've talked kind of long term … to try to get to the Olympic trials eventually. He's got a pretty good head on his shoulders about this stuff.
"… He believes that he still has some more speed in him, so he's not just satisfied with going in (seeded) first."
The path to a shot at a national championship is a winding one. Brindamour basically grew up in the water. He developed into an All-American swimmer at Manchester High School and won a Connecticut State Open title in the 50 during his senior year.
To put himself in position to attend Coast Guard, he first went to New Mexico Military Institute.
It meant taking a year off from competitive swimming, which wasn't an easy task. "It was my dream to come here," Brindamour said, "so that was step that I needed to do."
He's become one of the top swimmers in the program's history and is attempting to win the first men's individual national title.
Brindamour continues to improve, tweaking his routine and polishing some technical aspects. Checking in at 6-foot-2 and about 200 pounds, he's built for speed and efficiency.
"He's pretty technically pure," Weskott said. "He has a really nice feel for it and extremely powerful and he has great legs, kick-wise. He's got a very smooth feel for the water. … He doesn't look like most 50 swimmers."
The 50 freestyle field is loaded. It is really anyone's race. One of his main competitors is MIT's Austin Fathman, who is seeded second only six one-hundredths of a second behind Brindamour.
"There really isn't a cut and dry favorite," Weskott said. "There may be some guys behind him that are capable of doing a lot more as well as Christian is. It's a fickle event. One mistake can leave you way outside."
He'll also compete in the 100 backstroke on Friday and 100 freestyle Saturday, entering as the 19th seed in the latter.
With another year of college swimming still remaining, Brindamour's ceiling is high.
"It's fun to work with someone like that," Weskott said. "Even when he's not in season, it's always a part of him. The academy is a good place for him because he likes to physically be ready. The climate of the academy for some kids is all about that physical component and he's one of those guys."