Kicking and Cooking
When Bethanie Griffin joined her high school swim team in Nebraska, she set herself a brash goal—to beat her father’s best time for the 100-yard butterfly, 56.68 seconds. “I didn’t give it much thought,” she admits. “Guys’ times are fast.” Little did she know, she would chase that challenge for the next six years.
She didn’t beat it in high school, but she did lead her team to victory in the 400-yard freestyle relay at the Nebraska state championships in her senior year. “It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life,” she says.
Griffin could’ve hung up her goggles then and there, but she wasn’t finished yet. “I got out of the water and said, ‘I can’t give this feeling up.’ I decided that I wanted to swim in college.”
Griffin visited Xavier and met the swim team. She loved campus and the team felt like a family. When she won a St. Francis Xavier scholarship—full tuition, room and board—her decision was made. “All of the pieces just fell together,” she says. She joined the Musketeers as a freshman walk-on, impressing her coaches with her work ethic and speed. “I’m definitely a sprinter,” she says. “I don’t have the stamina to do much more than 100 yards.”
For most of the year, Griffin was up before the sun six days a week, lifting weights or swimming laps. She came back in the afternoon for more training. “It’s a massive time commitment,” she says. Her only day off was Sunday. “It was the one day a week I didn’t have to set an alarm,” she says. “Sundays were wonderful.”
It was also her day to catch up on her studying. She was majoring in biology, with minors in math and chemistry. “I’m a math and science kind of girl,” she says. She had already completed college coursework in chemistry and calculus before she even got to Xavier.
When she wasn’t in the pool or the science lab, Griffin was in the kitchen, pursuing her other passion—cooking. “My mom and I have been cooking together since I was really young,” she says. She loves baking most of all, a discipline that demands a scientist’s attention to detail. “It’s like a giant, tasty chemistry experiment every time.”
Griffin’s teammates enjoyed the fruits of her hobby at potluck brunches after Saturday morning practices. “I would make this egg bake, with sausage and cheese and different spices,” she says. “It was a massive hit every time. I’d never seen some of my teammates move as quickly as when I brought the dish that last time.”
The team ate Thanksgiving dinner together, too, assigning different dishes to each class. In her senior year, Griffin brought the turkeys—two of them, “because we’re swimmers, and we eat a lot.” She roasted the birds to a golden perfection, with butter, herbs and salt stuffed under their skins to keep them moist.
Meanwhile, Griffin was making a splash in the pool. She broke Xavier’s 50-yard freestyle record, and swam on four record-breaking relay teams. And in her sophomore year, she finally beat her father’s 100-yard butterfly time, breaking the Xavier record in the process. It took her 56.13 seconds. “I didn’t even have to look at the clock to know that I got it because I could hear my teammates cheering so loudly,” she says. “There is nothing quite like that moment when you achieve a long-term goal.”
“She was a great competitor,” says Xavier swimming coach Brent MacDonald. “That was a great swim for her and very fast. That would still beat a lot of guys today.”
A scientist and a foodie at heart, Griffin wanted to do something “with meaning and use” after she graduated last year. She decided on culinary school, back in her hometown, Omaha. She’ll spend the next year and a half honing her skills in the kitchen. Then she plans to go to grad school to get her master’s in food science, with the hope of landing a job researching food preservation, or special diets.
“I love being in a kitchen,” Griffin says, “but I don’t really want a bakery. The hours are crazy. If I can work in a lab, I still get to play with the food, and tie in the science and have a life, which is something I’m looking forward to having again.”
Her feet aren’t entirely on dry land, however. Griffin is also back at her old high school, as a volunteer coach for the swim team, helping younger girls reach goals of their own.