Amador Valley graduate Jason Chen is taking part in the NCAA Division I Championships with his University of Michigan teammates today through Saturday in Atlanta.
The Wolverines captured their sixth straight conference title by winning the Big Ten Championships last month at Purdue University in Indiana. Chen was a swimmer on three of those championship teams, and a major player on this year's squad.
"It's crazy that I'm a junior now," Chen said in a recent phone interview. "It's just been an amazing experience."
The 20-year-old sprint swimmer from Pleasanton was a member of Michigan's 4x200 medley relay team that took first place at the Big Ten Championships -- with Chen swimming backstroke. He was also part of the second-place 4x200 and 4x400 freestyle relays.
Chen had strong individual races as well, taking third in the 100-yard backstroke, sixth in the 50-yard free and ninth in the 100-yard free.
He is eligible to swim on the three relays at the NCAA Championships, and he narrowly missed qualifying as an individual in the 100 backstroke.
"I'm just going to try to put my head down and race hard for my team," said Chen, a business major in Michigan's Ross School of Business.
Born in China, Chen moved with his family to the United States when he was 5 and then relocated to Pleasanton as a middle schooler. He attended Harvest Park, graduated from Amador Valley High in 2013 and was an active swimmer on the Pleasanton Seahawks.
"Growing up in Pleasanton, growing up somewhere that was super safe, I was truly blessed to have that," he said, also praising the support he received from local teachers and swim coaches.
Chen described himself as a top fish from Amador who had to adapt to a "big ocean" at Michigan. "It's pretty difficult and exciting at the same time," he said.
Chen was limited to a handful of competitive races his first two years at Michigan, due to inexperience as a freshman and knee surgery recovery his sophomore season.
Fully healthy as a junior, Chen broke out this season, swimming events every meet for one of the nation's top programs.
"It's really exciting being part of a team like that," he added. "The goal here is to win."
The collegiate season runs August to March, and he maintains a busy daily routine as a student-athlete.
Chen said he usually wakes up weekdays at 5:30 a.m. before practice from 6-8 a.m., and then heads to class between 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. before another two-hour practice starting at 2:30 p.m. He said he typically spends his evenings studying or working as a project manager for a consultant firm with start-ups.
He summed up his college life as: "Eat, sleep, swim, work and study."
Chen said he tries to stay grounded and keep the big picture in mind, using the support of his teammates, coaches and family. "It helps that my mom was a national-level athlete as well," he added.
Looking ahead, he said he plans to spend part of his off-season cheering Michigan teammates vying during Olympic trials before beginning training for his senior year in the pool.
"I've got a lot of work to do," he added.
Chen said he hopes to also spend time next year "finding where I am in the business world."
And as for his own national-team aspirations, "The thought is there, but I don't know. We'll have to see how I do next year," he added.