Raising the Barr: 16-year-old Nebraskan Luke Barr and his road to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials


Ana Bellinghausen

Luke Barr during the Summer Junior Nationals swim tournament in 2019. Photo courtesy of Julie Barr.

A typical school week for a high school junior may be filled with chemistry exams, algebra lessons and figuring out weekend plans. However, for Papillion-LaVista High School junior Luke Barr, his weeks consist of something a little different: preparing for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.

Barr’s days begin at 5 a.m. with swimming practice, attending classes for half the day, going to a lifting session or for another swim, completing homework and online classes and then hopefully squeezing in some down time.

Despite the demanding schedule, Barr believes it’s all worth it for an opportunity to compete at the Omaha-hosted Olympic Swim Trials he grew up attending as a fan.

“It’s really cool being able to grow up here my whole life and to go to all of these past trials and finally being able to swim in it,” Barr said. “It’s kind of been a life-long goal.”

This 16-year-old’s life-long goal became a reality at the 2019 Speedo Junior National Championships in Stanford, California. It was in the Golden State that Barr found himself qualifying for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in the 100-meter backstroke. Once Barr saw his time of 56.53 seconds, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“The beginning of the meet wasn’t going so well, but I turned it around in an event which I didn’t expect to make the cut,” Barr said. “Making it in the 100 backstroke was not what I was expecting at the beginning of the summer. It really turned everything around and I was very happy about it.”

Barr is currently ranked No. 1 for Nebraska male swimmers and in the U.S. top 25 for his class, but the recent Indiana University commit doesn’t pay attention to the ranks.

“I mainly just focus on how hard I’m working in practice, what I’m doing to get myself faster and what kind of paces I’m holding,” Barr said. “I really just focus on how I’m preparing myself for my race.”

No swim meet in the world brings more swimmers together than Omaha’s Olympic Swim Trials. Despite how daunting it may seem for a high schooler to compete in the same pool as gold medalists Ryan Lochte or Katie Ledecky, Barr is ready for his biggest meet yet.

“I’m not trying to put any pressure on myself,” Barr said. “I just want to go there, have fun and most importantly learn from it.”

This isn’t Barr’s first taste of a professional meet, but he’s sure the trials will be nothing short of an adrenal rush.

“In the trials, there will be even more people there I look up to,” Barr said. “It’s just going to be awesome and make me want to swim even faster.”

Barr’s roots in swimming can be traced back to his parents who both swam throughout college and now coach their son at the Sarpy County Swim Club. The now 16-year-old has swum competitively since the age of six.

“I’ve been around the pool since I was born and I’ve loved it ever since,” Barr said. “We’re kind of an aquatic family, and it’d be impossible for me to get away from the pool.”

The Nebraska native will have a “home water” advantage as Omaha hosts the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials for the fourth consecutive time. Barr will have his local family and friends there to cheer him on and will even get to sleep in his own bed.

“It’s definitely special to be able to have my grandpa, my friends, my cousins and my whole family there,” Barr said. “Everybody will be there, so it’ll be awesome.”

Barr may not have the week of a typical high school junior, but all the long hours balancing training and school work will become worthwhile in June when Barr has the chance to write his name in history at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.