Griswold wins Paralympic gold medal in 100-meter backstroke in Tokyo

Two-time U.S. Paralympian Robert Griswold, a 2015 graduate of Freehold Township High School, won the gold medal in the men’s 100-meter backstroke S8, setting a new world record of 1:02:55 on Aug. 27 at the Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Team USA’s Joey Peppersack placed seventh in the race, according to a press release from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Griswold came into the final the defending world champion and the Rio 2016 bronze medalist. He said it felt amazing to win gold in his signature event.

“I have been reflecting on it over the last few minutes and I just had more peace than I have ever had before a race,” said Griswold, who is the son of Douglas and Linda Griswold.

“I felt peace knowing I have a family and friends who love me and people who really value me and care about me. I carried that with me and I am trying to do the best I can and give back to the people who have given so much to me,” he said.

Griswold said he had been training his starts intensely in the one-year delay in the Paralympic Games due to the coronavirus pandemic and studying his competitor’s races.

He spoke highly of everyone in the final, saying how glad he was they were all racing together again, according to the press release.

“In S8, we have a special bond,” Griswold said. “We are brothers no matter what country you are from. We all respect each other and value each other’s company. Today we talked about how much we value having each other back and that’s something we missed during our time away because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to the International Paralympic Committee, examples of individuals who are eligible for the S8, SB8 and SM8 classes include swimmers who have lost either both hands or one arm and/or athletes with severe restrictions in the joints of the lower limbs.

Griswold said he enjoyed competing alongside his teammate Joey Peppersack, who made his Paralympic debut in Toyko. The two athletes met in 2014 and have been competing together since they were teenagers, according to the press release.

“Joey’s been a brother to me for so long,” Griswold said. “I have gotten to see him grow from a young kid into an amazing young man and somebody who I consider as one of my dear closest friends. We have a picture of us with this big group of guys from a meet in 2014. We were looking at it in training camp thinking we were the ones who made it.”

According to his biography on the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee website, Griswold, who has cerebral palsy, got his start in the pool when his parents took him to the Ocean County YMCA at the age of 6. He was on a competitive track by the time he was 9.

When he was 16, Griswold arranged a clinic to educate the community about the sport of adaptive swimming and to expose individuals who have physical disabilities and their families to the athletic opportunities that are available to them.

He was the captain and MVP of the swim team at Freehold Township High School, according to the website.