Nareg Minassian swims his way to the US Olympic trials

Yale swimmer Nareg Minassian is blazing his trail by water, which his parents knew he would do from an early age. Minassian is coming off a successful sophomore season that concluded with his participation in the U.S. Olympic trials.

“I started swimming when I was three. I started swimming because I was on a family vacation with my parents, and I guess I was unable to stay away from the water, but I didn’t know how to swim yet,” Minassian told the Weekly. “So my parents were like, ‘We gotta get this kid into swimming.’ So as soon as we got back from Cancun, they signed me up for lessons. I joined my first team when I was five. Swimming has been my main thing since then.”

Minassian was raised in Newton, Massachusetts. “I grew up in a very Armenian household. My dad is very Armenian, and my mom is very Armenian. They were both scouts. Both were in Armenian youth organizations in Beirut where they grew up. As soon as you walk into my house, you can tell it’s Armenian — Armenian rugs, Armenian paintings all over the wall, Armenian music playing from the kitchen. I definitely grew up in a very Armenian household, and being Armenian has been prioritized by my parents since I was young,” he said.

Minassian learned how to read and write in Armenian at a young age and has been involved in groups including the AYF since childhood. He says his Armenian identity has helped him get to where he is today. “I think it’s a huge part of shaping who I am today,” he said. “Like I would credit 50% of myself to the Armenian community I’ve been part of.”

Minassian admits he never swam for his schools growing up, instead competing in club swimming. “My first club team was in Pennsylvania where I used to live, and when we moved to Boston I moved to a different club called Crimson Aquatics,” he explained. “I’ve been in that club since 2011.” Minassian is now an alumnus of his swim club.

Nareg Minassian shows off his medal at a swim meet

As he grew up, Minassian learned that swimming was a demanding sport. Not only was swimming a challenge in the water, but Minassian and his family also had to jump through extra hoops to make his dreams possible. 

“It was a 30-minute drive away from my house, so all of my friends would do their sports after school right at the school, and I had to go kind of far away. But it was worth it just because you need good facilities for swimming; you need new coaches. And the good training wasn’t going to happen at my high school, so I had to make that sacrifice,” Minassian said.

Early on, Minassian knew that swimming wasn’t just a recreational sport for him. “My breakout performance was when I was 14, my first team travel game,” he recalled. “It was in Indiana, and I had a bunch of national, top-20 times for my age group. I think I was 14 and under, and that’s when people were like alright, this kid is serious, I gotta get serious.”

Year after year, Minassian improved his skill set in the water. Swimming in the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, Minassian was offered a spot on the Yale swim team as he concluded his high school swim career. Academics has always been a priority in the Minassian household, and when the opportunity to attend an Ivy League school presented itself, Minassian swam with it.

“I knew Yale was the fit for me. When I was going through Harvard, Princeton, all the Ivys and then I looked at Stanford for a bit, Cal as well, I just knew that the team was going to ultimately decide it for me, because swimming is a super tough sport. It’s a very individual sport, but the best thing is when you can get support from other people on the team. I found that support on the Yale team, and that’s why I chose Yale,” Minassian said.

Minassian recalled the day he found out he was going to Yale.

“It was in my car on a very cold January day of my junior year, and I told them I was going to commit, came home and told my parents, and they were ecstatic. They’re both first generation immigrants who went to school in Lebanon. That was the best news they could’ve heard. It was a really great day. When the acceptance letter came and solidified it, that was an even better day,” Minassian shared.

Minassian representing Yale

Now, Minassian has completed his first two seasons with the Yale swim team. He admits his first season was all about adjusting to a new pace of life, but he found his footing. “I definitely just wanted to contribute to the team a lot more,” he said. “I wanted to score points at Ivy’s. I wanted to place up. I wanted to get all of my personal bests, and I did all of that. It was really cool. I work really hard. I kind of just knew my way around, so I knew what to do.”

Minassian continued to learn and grow as a sophomore. “I was able to experience a season where I wasn’t really trying to figure stuff out. Now, I feel like I have a very good understanding of how the season works, how I need to manage my school time, my free time, my time at practice,” Minassian added.

Towards the end of his sophomore year, Minassian had the opportunity to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials. “Qualifying for the trials was a crazy experience,” he said. “It was at the end of our Ivy League championships, and they had a time qualifier on Sunday. So the meet ended on Saturday, and qualifiers were on Sunday.”

Minassian had no idea that he had a chance of qualifying.

“I didn’t expect that I was going to qualify, and when I did, I was just shocked. I was so hyped, because that’s literally the top of the totem pole of swimming. Once you qualify to the trials, you qualify for every meet you can other than the Olympics. It’s the biggest national meet the U.S. has to offer, and it was a surreal experience. I couldn’t believe it,” Minassian explained.

The U.S. Olympic trials aren’t your ordinary swim meet. Hosted in Lucas Oil Stadium, the U.S. trials stack up as one of the highlights of his budding career, Minassian said.

Minassian at the U.S. Olympic trials

“Swimming in a football stadium is something I never thought I would ever do, and they decked out that meet. There were so many things that we were offered. We had therapy dogs, massages, unlimited food; they had different stations with activities you could do. Cold tubs, hot tubs, sauna rooms, steam rooms. Unlimited amenities to make sure the kids that qualify knew that they made it,” Minassian shared.

The U.S. Olympic swim trials took place from June 15-23. Minassian competed on June 17-18 in the 50 meter freestyle and the time trialed 100 meter freestyle. Despite not booking a spot in Paris, Minassian says the experience was valuable. Now, he has a junior year ahead of him with a certain goal in mind. “We are currently third in the Ivy League. It’s always Harvard, Princeton and us, and we’re trying to get up to second place. We think we have a chance at beating Princeton this year,” he said.

Minassian is a proud Armenian. He inquired about the possibility of representing Armenia in swim, but that proved to be a challenge. “I actually was looking into going for Armenia before I went early in the year. And the problem with that was I had to compete for Armenia at the world championships in 2022, and so obviously I couldn’t go back in time and do that,” he explained.

Minassian credits who he is today to his Armenian upbringing. He says that his success in the water has inspired younger Armenians to take part in a sport they otherwise wouldn’t. “A lot of our younger family friends have put their kids in swimming. We see a lot of them getting better because of me, and that’s a really cool thing to see honestly,” he said.

Jason Takhtadjian

Jason Takhtadjian

Jason Takhtadjian is a reporter, producer and weekend anchor at KCAU-TV in Sioux City, Iowa. Takhtadjian began college pursuing Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Aerospace until deciding to pursue a sports broadcast career after one semester at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas. While at UNLV, Takhtadjian worked on his own weekly radio show/podcast covering soccer and basketball, produced his own sports debate show, was part of the university’s weekly sports show “The Rebel Report” and was the play-by-play commentator for UNLV men’s and women’s soccer and basketball, to name a few. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Jason was graduating college and had to pivot to the world of general news to land a job. Three years after accepting a job in the middle of the United States with no Armenian community, Takhtadjian accepted a reporter position at KSEE in Fresno, California. The 26-year-old also worked as a contributor for Armenian Sports News, helping grow the page by thousands of followers in less than a year of work.

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