For Penn men's swimming junior Matt Leblanc, competing at the Division I level seemed inevitable. Leblanc comes from a family with a history of success in the pool; both of his parents were Division I swimmers at Arizona State University.
Leblanc's father, David, was a French Olympian, competing in the 100m and 200m breaststroke in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Leblanc's parents didn't pressure him or his two sisters to follow in their footsteps, though. Instead, Leblanc and his sisters found their passion on their own.
“My older sister swam at Columbia, and my younger sister is swimming at the University of Chicago," Leblanc said. "But I always tell people that my parents didn’t want us to be swimmers. They knew how hard it was, they told us that we didn’t have to do swimming, but somehow, someway, we all just ended up doing this.”
Leblanc, who started swimming when he was five and who started club swimming at 10, eventually became a four-time 100m state champion, a two-time 200m state champion, and a two-time AISDCA Swimmer of the Year award recipient. Throughout high school, he continued to improve.
“He's impressive, he's been winning for such a long time,” Mateja Milovanovic, Leblanc's high school competitor and friend, said. “And not only did he start well, but he's only worked harder and gotten better throughout high school, and especially now in college.”
Leblanc committed to Penn in 2019, falling in love with the swim team and the coaches on a tour during his junior year. His excitement to start competing for the Quakers had to wait, however, when the pandemic paused his senior high school season and his first season at Penn.
“For the first time in my life, I wasn't swimming, it’s one of those sports where you need to stay in the water, but all the pools were closed,” Leblanc said. “I never got back to a real training schedule until my sophomore year of college, which is really insane to me”
Like many others, Leblanc wasn’t back on campus until the second semester of the 2020-2021 school year. Even though the swim team was allowed to meet, the restrictions put on the team prevented normal training hours and swim meets versus other schools.
Time restrictions in the water and weight room hampered Leblanc's progress, and after the academic year was over, the swim clubs in his native Arizona still had pandemic-related restrictions as well. These restrictions devastated Leblanc, but he was determined to find a way to continue working on his skills.
“I think my performance really suffered,” Leblanc said. “I went home that summer and I did anything I could to swim, I found this lady who lived 30 minutes away from me and she had a 25m pool. I paid her to let me swim in her pool, 25 bucks an hour.”
Eventually, Leblanc was able to resume working out with his teammates and coach Mike Schnur. Finally interacting with his teammates, Leblanc felt inspired to compete with the help and motivation from his fellow swimmers.
“He’s such a hard worker,” Leblanc's teammate, freshman Alex Fu said. “On top of that, he’s a very positive guy to be around, always smiling while working.”
On top of his swimming prowess, Matt has proven adept at other sports. Inspired by his mother Adrienne, a five-time national champion for Olympic distance triathlons, Leblanc began competing in triathlons as well.
“I did a triathlon recently, I didn't train for the bike or run, but I came in first because I dusted everyone else in the swim,” Leblanc said. “I got invited to nationals, but my goal right now is focusing on college. Once college is over, I’m going to have to look for something new to do, and triathlon is up for debate.”
When asked about what pushes him in sports, Leblanc credits the winning mentality his parents had instilled in his family. They also taught him the value of balance, something he's looked to replicate in his own life.
“I have to give a lot of credit to my parents. One story I like to tell is that they never checked our report cards, they just taught us to value education so we always enforced ourselves,” Leblanc said. “We adopted that mentality for everything we did, and I have to give a lot of credit to my parents because if they had forced us to do well in swimming and school, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.
“I’m always embracing swimming as part of my life and enjoying every aspect of it,” Matt said. “I’m not letting it be who I am, I know having that balance is incredibly important.”