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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — With their 12-year-old daughter, Katie, swimming nearby, Shari and Christian Grimes stood on the pool deck talking to Sandpipers of Nevada coach Chris Barber. Christian had just been offered the deputy fire chief job in Logan, Utah, and the family was considering moving there from their home in Las Vegas.
Barber is a good listener with a calm head, Shari says, and the Grimes family trusts him. So she didn’t take his words that day lightly. Barber started by saying that Katie could move anywhere and earn a college swimming scholarship.“But I’m telling you right now,” he continued, “there is something different about her. And if you leave her here, she will be an Olympian.”
Shortly after, Ron Aitken, the Sandpipers CEO who coaches the team’s top swimmers, heard what the family was considering. He reached out to make a pact: If they stayed in Nevada, he promised he’d remain with Sandpipers at least until Katie graduated high school.
The coaches’ responses were telling. Katie was a special talent with more potential than her parents had realized up to that point. So Shari and Christian listened. The family stayed put.
Five years later, Grimes is one of the most promising swimmers in the U.S. She already made Barber look prophetic, making the Olympics as a 15-year-old in 2021, and has since won three silver medals in pool events at the World Aquatics Championships. She’s also a world-class open-water swimmer and has already qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics in the 10-kilometer race after taking bronze at the 2023 world championships, making her the first American athlete to secure a spot in France.
“Knowing that I’m already going to Paris is a little bit comforting, but I still really want to make it in the pool,” said Grimes, now 17. “… I feel like I still have a lot to do.”
Grimes is never satisfied, her mom says. Shari believes there are times Katie needs to celebrate her accomplishments more than she does. But that unrelenting hunger is perhaps what continually propels the teenager to new heights.
Katie, who is homeschooled and the youngest of seven kids, spent a little over three weeks this fall at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Shari chaperoned for part of the trip, and she stopped by the pool every once in a while during practices. She found herself getting emotional seeing how hard her daughter and the other swimmers work and how much they sacrifice for a shot at their goals.
“But I also do believe that there is even bigger greatness inside her that hasn’t broken out yet, and I’m excited for that,” Shari said. “Because every time we show up somewhere, that girl literally amazes us with something totally out of the blue that we weren’t expecting.”
When Katie was around 3, a Sandpipers coach noticed her older brother Carter at the YMCA pool. Carter had been a gymnast until he grew too tall, and he looked good in the water, so the coach approached Shari to ask if the family would be interested in joining the swim club. Carter tried it and excelled, eventually swimming at the University of Missouri.
From that moment on, “Katie pretty much grew up on the pool deck,” said Shari, who had a 12-passenger van because of her big family and frequently drove Sandpipers swimmers to and from practice. The young Katie was her carpool pal, sitting in her car seat in the back.
“She loved being around the swimmers,” Shari said. “It was just kind of a natural progression for her to start swimming when she got to that age.”