A misplaced T-shirt.
That’s all it took to nearly derail Galen Penvenne’s postseason.
Just a few days before the PAC 8 League Finals this spring, the San Luis Obispo High School junior and a few friends went surfing at a popular spot in Montaña de Oro State Park. As he was getting ready, Penvenne took off his shirt and put it on top of his bag in the dunes before heading out into the water.
When he was done surfing, he put the shirt back on. Later that night, the pain started to creep in.
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“I woke up the next morning with a rash all over my upper body. I think my shirt landed in some poison oak,” Penvenee said, though he admits he’s still not entirely sure what happened. “It was bad enough where I couldn’t sleep, so I went to the ER and was on steroids and antihistamines.”
The next day, a Tuesday, he competed in the league prelims, but he wasn’t himself. That Thursday, at the finals, he still wasn’t able to eat normally. But that didn’t stop him from running away from the competition. He finished first in the 200 individual medley at 1:56.10 and first in the 50 freestyle with a new league record of 20.98.
He finished the league season undefeated and went on to place in the top 10 at the CIF State Meet. For his accomplishments, Penvenne has been named The Tribune 2017 County Boys Swimmer of the Year.
Penvenne added 30 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame over the past year and now comes in at 200 pounds. The increased strength, paired with a clear set of goals and improved technique, elevated him to the status as one of the top swimmers in the state.
The signs were there early. In a midseason meet against Arroyo Grande, Penvenne swam one of hist fastest times in the 100 free in the anchor leg of a relay.
“That was a highlight,” Penvenne said.
But his best event this season was the 50 freestyle. At the Mt. SAC Winter Invitational, he set a new meet record at 20.97. Penvenne’s 21.10 at the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 Championships earned him a third-place finish and a spot in the CIF State Championships. His seventh-place finish at the state meet earned him the distinction as the 24th best high school swimmer in the state, according to CollegeSwimming.com, and 50th in the All-American rankings.
But Penvenne wants more.
“I was expecting a much better end to the season than I had,” Penvenne said. “I wanted to be in the 200 freestyle and the 50 freestyle at state, but I didn’t perform as well as I could have had I not been on the medication.”
Penvenne’s breakout junior season put him on the radar of scouts across the country. He has been in talks with coaches from Harvard, UC Santa Barbara and Cal. But there might be more on the way as he looks to accomplish big things in his senior season.
“I want to break some records. There are things that are in reach for me. I’m looking to break a couple league record and a couple school records,” said Penvenne who already holds the SLO High backstroke record at 52.43.
He is also looking to transition from sprints to middle distance events like the 200 and 500 freestyle.
“I don’t like sprints,” he said. “I really like to race people, and as I am continuing with my swimming, I am starting to discover that the longer races are better for me.”
But his biggest goal for next season involves the team.
“I really want to get the relay team to a state championship,” Penvenne said. “We were really close this year. The last two years I have gone (to the state meet) by myself, but it’s always more fun when you got the bros there.”