The University of Arizona has an rich athletic history, notably in swimming, and sophomore Brooks Fail has earned his place as one of the greats, both locally and nationally.
Fail broke personal records at the Texas Invitational last November and December, securing a spot in the NCAA Championship . He is currently ranked No. 2 for the 500-yard freestyle among national collegiate swimmers, with a new personal best of 4:11:84, and is No. 5 for the mile, at 14:43:90.
For the 500, Fail is already the third-fastest swimmer in UA history.
“It hasn’t really set in yet, and I don’t think it will until after I’m done,” Fail said. “The UA has an insane history for distance swimming. To be that high up there as just a sophomore is definitely motivating. It’s definitely surreal.”
Fail has dropped 11 seconds off his time since starting at the UA, which is “unheard of”, UA assistant coach Cory Chitwood told the Arizona Daily Star. At the Texas Invite, Fail dropped nearly three whole seconds off his personal best for the 500.
Senior and swim partner Jerad Kaskawal predicted Fail’s potential three years prior, when they first met as roommates during the 2016 World Trials. He remembered swimming the same race with Fail and seeing him finish — it was unlike anything he’d ever seen.
“I can tell you that nobody else can finish a race like he does. His last few laps are remarkable. I’ve seen him do things that literally make my mouth drop,” Kaskawal said. “He has a lot of potential; it’s really exciting.”
According to Kaskawal, Fail “negative-splits” races — he controls his speed so that his second half is faster than the first half.
“[At the Texas Invite], he wasn’t even in the lead at the 250, but he turned it on in the last 200 yards and won the race,” Kaskawal said. “He did that at World Trials, and he came back really fast. Watching him come back that fast was incredible. I knew he had potential to be a really great swimmer.”
Fail began swimming at six years old as part of a summer league with his siblings. He said he took to it instantly but never thought of himself as particularly talented.
“Swimming was just something I always loved to do. Swimming is important to me, but it’s not the be-all, end-all for my life,” Fail said.
This is a philosophy he learned from his mom, Lisa Fail.
“She always preached about being the best version of yourself in the classroom, as a person, as a swimmer,” Fail said. “She always kept me motivated. I don’t think I would be here without everything she did for me.”
One of Fail’s first swim memories is of failure. He was only eight years old. He dove into the pool, and his goggles came off when he hit the water. By time he finished the race, he realized he had swam into another swimmer’s lane and was disqualified.
But he said his mom took him out for ice cream afterwards anyway, so it was okay. She taught him to welcome failure and get up again.
“He’s a momma’s boy, but I think we all are,” said Teagan Fail, Fail’s older sister and a 2018 UA alumna. “Our mom is practically on call for us. She’ll be there anytime, anywhere, for anything. She’s the best.”
Fail’s parents taught him to be caring, but didn’t teach dedication. According to Teagan, that is a trait particular to her younger brother that comes from a genuine love of the sport: Fail’s whole lifestyle revolves around swimming.
In high school, Fail said he would spend weeks after swim meets going over his team’s heat sheets, memorizing every swimmer’s times. He knows when someone is meeting a pace and how to push them to do their best.
Fail hopes to uplift his teammates, both by supporting them and setting an example.
“He may be one of the fastest swimmers on the team, but he doesn’t seem himself as any better,” Kaskawal said. “He wants to see everyone thrive as much as we want to see him thrive.”
Fail goes above and beyond for his teammates, Teagan said. He has a genuine love for Tucson and UA sports. He grew up watching UA swimming and dreams of restoring the sport to its glory days.
“Swimming doesn’t get a lot of recognition, they don’t get enough credit,” Teagan said. “Brooks is super about restoring the legacy. We grew up watching UA swimming in a swim family. He is super adamant about restoring that interest.”
Fail is unsure what the future holds. He plans on continuing his education degree and possibly pursuing speech pathology, but as a swimmer, the Olympics are certainly on his radar.
Even more than winning a championships, though, Fail said he would love to coach a swim team at either the high school or collegiate level to thank those who helped him make it this far.
“I want to give back. I can’t thank my coaches enough. They’ve been the greatest mentors for me. If I can be that role in someone’s life, I’d love to,” Fail said. “There’s no feeling that can really describe what they give to you.”
No matter what his future entails, Fail’s peers and coaches seem to agree: He can accomplish anything he sets his mind to.
“In two years, who knows where he is going to be,” Teagan said. “He’s a ceiling-breaker.”
Kaskawal has been looking forward to seeing Fail progress as a swimmer and a person since they first met. Fail’s work ethic, combined with his genuine love of the team and the sport, has Kaskawal convinced that in the coming years, Fail could be “captain-worthy”.
And Kaskawal has no doubts that Fail will prove himself; he’s got a good shot at Olympics 2020 and winning the 500 free at the NCAAs.
“Actually, I don’t think he has a shot,” Kaskawal said. “I think he’s going to win. I’m pretty confident in that guy.”
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