news-category: Athletics

Gardner-Webb Swimmer Justin Bender Competes in 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials  

Junior Achieves His Personal Best Time in the Tryouts for 100-Meter Breaststroke

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—While Gardner-Webb University swimmer Justin Bender waited to compete in the 2024 Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Ind., his focus was on the swim ahead. He tried not to think about the record-breaking 20,000-plus crowd in attendance or the transformation of a football stadium into a natatorium—or that he was one of nearly 70 swimmers competing in the 100-meter breaststroke event.

Despite the added protocols and overwhelming reality of being on this national stage, Bender followed his usual pre-race routine. “First, I do my basic warmup in the competition pool, and then I have about an hour,” he described. “About 20 minutes before I swim, I get in the water just to warm up again. I wear the same sweatshirt, same pants.”

Standing on the platform, he waited for the signal. At the sound, Bender splashed into the water, and all the years of training and competition took over. His mind was not on technique but winning. “I don’t think about anything and just swim,” he reflected. “I know that my training is good.”

At the sound of the buzzer, Bender had achieved his own personal best time of 1:01.92. Head Coach Michael Blum filmed the performance and shared it on social media. (Watch it on Instagram here.)

“We are so proud of Justin for everything he accomplished this season,” Blum praised. “But more importantly, he represents our program so well. He is academically driven and puts an equal amount of time into his swimming. He is kind and thoughtful to his teammates, and we are very lucky to have a swimmer like Justin represent GWU and our swimming program.”

Bender’s story is one of perseverance. A native of Florida, he learned how to swim and compete at an early age. He continued to compete when the family moved to Georgia but stopped when he was 13. In high school, Bender began swimming competitively again and joined a team with his sibling. He started looking at college programs, and found Gardner-Webb. His first year as a Runnin’ Bulldog, his times remained consistent. Then, this season, he started to excel, breaking GWU records and improving his own. After failing to qualify for the Olympic trials in April, Bender almost didn’t try again. Urged on by his coaches and teammates, Bender competed in the Atlanta Classic in Georgia. There he also attained a new personal best time of 102.13.   

Vice President and Director of Athletics Dr. Andrew T. Goodrich applauded Bender’s positive spirit and determination. “Justin’s attitude and efforts are inspirational, not only to his fellow students, but also to me, our administration, coaches, and staff,” Goodrich affirmed. “Justin is a living example that champions act like champions before they become champions. With each new personal best he sets, Justin is modeling championship caliber behavior, and that is how the best leaders lead, by example.”

Bender, of Alpharetta, Ga., was also named to the Big South Presidential Honor Roll, which recognizes student-athletes with a GPA of 3.0 or better.  A junior finance major, Bender is interning this summer in the financial department of an eye care center. The professors in the Godbold School of Business are available to help student-athletes maintain their academic studies. Bender said he also takes responsibility by planning his schedule and staying ahead of deadlines. “Being a student athlete is a lot of time management,” he noted.

During the recruiting process, Gardner-Webb stood out to Bender, because the people on campus made him feel at home. “I felt like here I was able to actually get to know all my teachers, everybody,” he observed. “And yeah, our swim team is super close, and we just have that tight-knit family. Our coaches, too, are always good with us and know what we need, and we have this good communication with all of them.”

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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