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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Long Gutierrez: From Cottonwood Heights to Rio de Janeiro

Oct 07, 2015 02:31PM ● By Bryan Scott

Long Gutierrez representing The University of California.

By Sarah Almond

From the moment Long Gutierrez entered swimming lessons, his mother knew he was special. What she didn’t realize, however, is that in just 17 short years, her son would an Olympian.  

 Born in Mexico City, Mexico on February 23, 1995 Gutierrez’s parents Haiying and Alejandro, moved the family to Utah in 1997 so that he could pursue a greater swimming career. 

“Where we lived in Mexico, there was a pool in every house,” Gutierrez said. “So my mom put me in swim lessons just so I wouldn’t drown. Once my parents saw that I was being really good at competing, they went on a wild, huge risk and said ‘Let’s just move to the U.S. and see how this goes.’”

Haiying and Alejandro knew that, if he kept advancing in the pool, he could stand a good chance of being recruited by a university and receiving a scholarship to swim. The family moved to Cottonwood Heights to further pursue Gutierrez’s swimming, a move that allowed Gutierrez to gain dual citizenship.  

 Five years after moving to Utah, Gutierrez met Todd Etherington, the head swim coach for both Brighton High School and the Cottonwood Heights Aquatics Team. 

“I started working with Long when he was seven years old,” Etherington said. “I used to call him ‘My Big Puppy Dog Golden Retriever’ because that’s kind of how he acted. You know, when you got him focused he was the best there was, but he liked to have fun – and that was OK also. Other kids could see that, within reason, you could be serious about swimming and still have fun with it.” 

Standing now at nearly 6’3”, Gutierrez is bigger, stronger and more confident than ever before, but getting to this point wasn’t always easy. 

“There’s a lot of life lessons that he’s had to go through,” Etherington said, “A couple years ago we thought he had a really good shot at making it to London. But I was at a swim meet in Oregon when I got a call that Long had hurt himself. It seemed he’d tried to leap-frog another swimmer during morning practice and missed and landed on both of his elbows, breaking both of them.” 

This accident, which occurred in July 2011, forced Gutierrez out of the pool for over four months. Though he made a full recovery, he dealt with a lot of flexibility issues and it took time to relearn how to swim and how to train.

“This kind of opened his mind to what he needed to do,” Etherington said. “His passion has always been to make it to the Olympics.”

Now, four years later, not only is Gutierrez a member of the University of California swim team, but he has also achieved the goal he has been working towards his whole life: On Aug. 8, he qualified to swim for Mexico in the 2016 Olympics. 

After qualifying in the 100-meter butterfly over a month ago at the US National Championships in San Antonia, Texas, the reality of his success still hasn’t set in.

“When we were at Nationals, I was not expecting to make it. My morning swim was kind of OK - I added a second and a half,” Gutierrez said. “So I wasn’t expecting anything too big out of the swim. But when I saw my time, it was the craziest thing ever. But I still don’t think it’s hit me yet.” 

Though Gutierrez attributes a lot of his success to Coach Etherington and his parents, having the support of the Cottonwood community is something that sticks with him to this day.

“I remember as I was leaving to go to Cal, I got really sad knowing I wasn’t going to be there [Cottonwood] anymore,” Gutierrez said. “It was cool to look at younger kids — the same age I was when I started swimming — and see how they saw me as a form of inspiration. But I never noticed it until my senior year.” 

As Gutierrez begins his journey to the 2016 Olympics, he’s looking forward to the experience and the fun that is sure to come with it. 

“The Olympics are going to be really, really fun,” Gutierrez said. “Being there with my team from Mexico, but knowing that I’ll have some other Cal Bears there — I’m pretty sure my coach is going to be there — is going to be awesome. Being there with both of my teams is going to be an absolutely incredible experience.”