Greg Penny’s journey has led him from Mustang to Kentucky, back to Oklahoma and now the MHS graduate is competing nationally for the Virgin Islands
By Trey Hunter / Sports Editor
Not many Mustang graduates or former Broncos earn the opportunity to compete nationally for the United States.
And only one has earned the chance to do so for the Virgin Islands.
Greg Penny first started swimming for Mustang High School his junior year, under former head coach Bruce Clifton and current assistant coach Kurt Kohler, or as the swimmers refer to him; ‘Coach K’. It was the first time Mustang actually had a swim team and while looking for something other than cross country to keep him in shape for soccer season, Penny decided to make a switch.
“I just went for it,” Penny, whose journey has now taken him down a lane he never envisioned at the time. “I ran cross country the first semester and since it was a first-year program I thought I’d give it a shot. I loved soccer, it was my first sport at the time, but ever since then I’ve been hooked on swimming.”
The sport was just getting its start at the high school level in Oklahoma and programs at schools even the size of Mustang (fifth largest in Oklahoma) were just starting to dip their toes in the water. In turn, not many athletes were seeing scholarship offers. Clifton and Kohler however still found a way to keep their swimmers interested beyond their senior year. And eventually it worked out for Penny.
“What they’re great about to this day is helping the kids fall in love with the sport,” Penny said of his former coaches, Clifton and Kohler. “They were so passionate about it and always there to help.”
Penny eventually picked up an offer from Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky. And he says the reason for heading to the bluegrass state was fully related to the scholarship.
“At the time that was really the only place to offer me,” he said. “That’s kind of what I was looking for, a place to give me a chance. I started late and knew I could grow and I always wanted to continue swimming because I knew I could get faster.
“My intentions were never to leave Union, but there was a better opportunity after my freshman year.”
That opportunity led him back to Oklahoma, this time east of Oklahoma City at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. And like Penny three years prior, the Bison were diving in for the first time.
“It was actually OBU’s first year to have a team,” said Penny, who assisted in the program’s immediate surge at the NAIA level by helping capture the 2012 Men’s Swimming and Diving team national championship – the first time a first-year program has accomplished the feat in any sport, at any level.
“It was a great college experience. We ended up being very successful and I thought it was a good move for me.”
Penny capped his collegiate career in 2014 with two individual national championships in the 200 and 400 breaststrokes and captured two more titles on OBU’s 200 and 400 medley relay teams. He – and his relay teammates – broke national records in each of the events.
“My senior year ended up being my best year,” he said. “The main goal was to go out with a bang and I felt like I did. I couldn’t be more excited about how that got me going.”
The U.S. Virgin Islands are located east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. The territory is an insular area of the United States and in some occasions the tropical group of islands becomes the land of opportunity for athletes, especially in Penny’s case.
Penny is now a resident of the Virgin Islands, earning the right after permanently living there now for two years. No need for a passport, which was a factor, and a shot to keep doing what he loves. It turned out to be a “no-brainer”.
“I didn’t want to stop swimming,” said Penny, who traveled home to Oklahoma to visit family for the holidays. “There was an opportunity down there to swim. I got in contact with the national coach and program and I’ve been there ever since.”
Penny recently competed at the 2016 FINA World Swimming Championships in Windsor, Ontario. He finished 54th in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:01.51 and 70th in the 100 individual-medley with a time of 1:00.77. He also finished 56th in the 50 breaststroke with a time of 0:28.55. There were over 1,000 swimmers from over 170 different countries at the event.
“It was the biggest meet I’ve ever been to,” Penny said. “It was awesome that I got to be there, but I really just wanted to throw down the best time I could. That’s the main goal and that’s what I told my coach. I tried to focus on just getting faster.”
Penny has rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s best swimmers, including all-time great Michael Phelps. He said he was taken back at first, but after getting to know the men and women in the “small” swimming world, you realize they’re everyday people themselves.
“I was warming up with Phelps and Ryan Lochte and I’ll admit I was a little star struck when I first saw them. But then after a while and getting to know them I realized they’re just like you and me.”
Although the Olympics have never been Penny’s main goal, he knows the opportunity is out there. At 25, he is entering his prime and has continued to take step after step while chasing the ultimate idea of getting faster every time out.
“It isn’t my ultimate goal, but it would be the cherry on the top. I’ve always wanted to do this to keep building speed and getting better. I want to be competitive if I get there I don’t want to just go and not reach the finals. Until then I’ll just keep working and enjoying what I love to do.”
“2020 though. You never know.”