Ryan Chartrand

Who knew that Cal Poly was home to a white tiger? OK, maybe not a real white tiger, but ask any member of the Cal Poly swim team, “Where’s the white tiger?” and they’ll most likely point you in the direction of freshman swimmer Gloria Benefield.

When asked how she came to be known as “the white tiger,” she said, “I have this suit that’s blue and it’s got stripes like a tiger, and I’m really white – I don’t tan whatsoever – so a guy on the team named me ‘white tiger.’ Everyone just kind of adopted that.”

Besides the quirky nickname, Benefield has seemed to leave quite a good impression on everyone she meets.

Sophomore teammate Adam Morales said that from the first time he practiced with Benefield, he was impressed.

“It’s usually the guys that kick everybody’s butts, but the first day, she just destroyed everybody on the kick steps,” he said. “She’s a real stud working out, too.”

That work has been paying off. In Cal Poly’s season opener on Oct. 27, 2007, Benefield set a Cal Poly record in the 200-yard butterfly (2 minutes, 3.69 seconds).

In high school, she set school marks for the 100 fly and 200 free. She was also the 2007 CIF champion in the 100 fly and 200 free, and qualified last summer in Indiana for the Olympic trials.

Interestingly, Benefield didn’t get her start in athletics by swimming, but with soccer.

Her father, William Benefield, said that she really enjoyed soccer but that he and his wife Kathleen didn’t like the atmosphere of the sport.

“Everybody always seemed so angry,” he said. “I didn’t want Gloria exposed to that, but we knew that she had the determination and the competitive spirit to do well in probably any sport.”

After Gloria and her family moved to San Diego, her father enrolled her and her sister in swimming lessons “just so that they wouldn’t drown, because you’re always hearing about kids drowning,” her father said.

Once she completed the swimming lessons, she got into novice and thrived in that environment.

She then naturally progressed to more of a competitive swimming league.

Benefield made the decision to go to Cal Poly basically from day one, her father said.

“She got a full-ride scholarship to UNLV before she got the full (one) to Cal Poly,” William Benefield said. “But when she went up to Cal Poly, she was just so much more enthusiastic about the environment, the coach, the team and everything associated with the school.”

Her father explained that he stressed “family” to his daughter when she was deciding on a school.

“Cal Poly will be a part of her forever and so you have to look at it like family; you treat them like family and they will treat you well. Every time I talk to her she’s telling me how much fun she’s having.”

Gloria herself said that coming to Cal Poly was the best thing that’s ever happened to her.

“I’ve never been bored since I’ve been here,” she said. “I based some of my decision to come to Cal Poly on swimming, but the program is really just developing. Tom (Milich) is a new coach and I really like what he does.”

Benefield thought Cal Poly was a nice change of pace, as UNLV is more city-like. “I thought I needed a change,” she said. “Plus, here they have my major, kinesiology, and I really like the program.”

Milich, the Mustangs’ head coach, said Benefield’s training level raises those of her teammates.

“Obviously, her ability to compete is her biggest asset,” Milich said. “She’s so versatile that she can swim the 200 fly, the 100 fly, the 200 free, the 500 free, the 400 individual medley and the 200 I.M., so she adds a lot of versatility to the team.”

Milich said Benefield’s bubbly personality adds to her success.

“One of the key characteristics of a great swimmer is that they enjoy what they’re doing out there most of the time,” he said. “She’s always up and having fun.”

Benefield says the key to her success is her simple love for the sport.

“I love coming in and training fast – that’s the big thing, training fast,” she said. “It just takes so much mental strength to go in there and do it every single day.”

Trying to swim fast isn’t the only thing that keeps Benefield enthused about the sport.

“If that was all I was doing, just swimming for the time, I don’t think it would be worth it,” she says.

Team camaraderie is another reason Benefield enjoys swimming so much.

“We just have that great brother-sister relationship with everyone, which is really nice,” she explained. “I definitely don’t think of swimming as an individual sport. If I didn’t have my team behind me, there’s no way I would have gotten where I am today.”

Melody White, a friend and teammate of Benefield, spoke about a trait of hers that luckily doesn’t translate into the water.

“She can be kind of a klutz sometimes,” White said. “She’s constantly getting hurt.”

Not only did Morales agree with White, asking, “Did she tell you about accidentally slamming her head in the car and getting a mild concussion?,” but Benefield willingly said the same thing.

“I’m a klutz, so I hurt myself a lot. Just this morning I almost slipped and hit my knee,” she said. “I’ve had shoulder problems, back problems, all there is.”

Her down-to-earth personality, immense dedication and focus are all factors that seem to equate to a successful future, Milich said.

“She’s just starting to reach her potential,” he said. “She had a great summer, but I think that the next four years will make her even better.”

When asked about her personal goals, one thing came to her mind instantly.

“Everyone has the goal to make the Olympics,” Benefield said. “Obviously it’s going to be really tough in 2008. There’s a lot of competition out there, but to go there and get one of the best times – that would be really nice as far as short-term goals go. But in the long run, I’m hoping to make top-32 in 2012.”

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